Downing Street Has Confirmed It Is Looking At An Australia-Style Offshore Migrant Processing Centre
Home secretary Priti Patel met with former Australian PM Tony Abbott earlier this month (Twitter/@pritipatel)
Downing Street has confirmed an Australian-style system for processing migrants offshore from the UK mainland is being looked at by the government.
It comes after reports the home secretary Priti Patel had asked officials to look at the possibility of building a facility on Ascension Island.
A spokesman for Number 10 strongly pushed back on the idea of using the remote British overseas territory in the Atlantic Ocean, but did confirm officials had “been looking at what a whole host of other counties do” as part of revamped immigration policy.
Australia has for several years been processing refuses and asylum seekers on the island of Nauru, several thousand miles off its coast, a policy which has been deemed unlawful by an international criminal court prosecutor.
Ms Patel met earlier this month with Tony Abott, the former Australian PM recently appointed as a trade advisor to the UK government, who is known for having a tough stance on immigration.
A spokesman for Boris Johnson was asked about the Financial Times report this morning, which said the Foreign Office was consulted about using Ascension and nearby St Helena, but was described as “inhumane” by Labour and dismissed as an unfeasible "logistical nightmare" by a member of the Ascension Island Council.
He said: “The UK has a long and proud history of offering refuge to those who need protection. Tens of thousands of people have rebuilt their lives in the UK, and we will continue to provide safe and legal routes in the future.
"As ministers have said we are developing plans to reform policies and laws around illegal migration and asylum to ensure that we are able to provide protection for those who need it, while preventing abuse of the system and the criminality associated with it.
“And the rise of gang-affiliated Channel crossings has put this issue into very sharp focus.”
Pressed on the claim Ascension was being looked at, he added: “As part of that work we have been looking at what a whole host other counties do to inform the plan for the UK, and that work is ongoing.”
Alan Nicholls, from the Ascension Island Council, told the BBC: "Looking at cost and logistics, we are some 4,000-plus miles away from the UK, I would have thought it would be extremely expensive and a bit of a logistical nightmare to get asylum seekers here to Ascension because of the fact we are very isolated and I don't think the whole thing would be very feasible, to be quite truthful.”
Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said of the plan: "This ludicrous idea is inhumane, completely impractical and wildly expensive. So it seems entirely plausible this Tory Government came up with it."
And Refugee Action chief executive Stephen Hale added: "It's deeply troubling that our Home Secretary even considered that this immoral and inhumane plan was a serious solution to a humanitarian crisis."
It is not clear where a remote facility could be placed. Apart from three island territories within the British Isles known as Crown Dependencies, there are also 14 British overseas territories, including the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and the Falkland Islands, many of them further away from the UK than Ascension Island. The UK also lays claim to an area of Antarctica. The city of Portsmouth is also technically an island.