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Will the UK Really Send Asylum Seekers Abroad to be Processed?

Anyone who cares to cast their memory back to September 2020 may recall that it was widely reported in the media that the Home Secretary was considering sending asylum seekers to the Ascension Islands. The Ascension Islands, a place so remote it may as well be on the moon, is a volcanic outpost in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, halfway between Africa and South America.

While remote, the weather is certainly better than in the UK, with coastal temperatures ranging between 22 and 28 °C. Indeed, the Foreign Office is believed to have carried out a feasibility assessment with a view to the transfer of migrants, but the idea was eventually dismissed. At the time, Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds went on record as saying, “This ludicrous idea is inhumane, completely impractical and wildly expensive”. In recent weeks, the idea of moving asylum seekers offshore has again gained traction in the media. In this article, we will take a look at whether the UK is really likely to send asylum seekers abroad to be processed.

The Australian Model Of Asylum-Seeker Processing

It would appear that the UK government is often keen to emulate the policies implemented by the Australian authorities. Last year the focus was on having an Australian style Brexit agreement with the EU (let us not forget that Australia has no free trade agreement with the EU at present). Then there was the Australian style points-based immigration system which Priti Patel was keen to replicate in the UK. Now the focus is on putting in place an offshore asylum-seeker centre rather like Australia’s Nauru Regional Processing Centre. The processing centre was first opened in 2001 under the Prime Ministership of John Howard as a deterrent to any asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat. In 2014, the island had a population of 1,233 detainees, many of whom were eventually resettled in the United States. In February 2019, it was announced that the last group of children and their families had left the island bound for the US. While Australia is keen to tightly control media access to Nauru, there have been numerous reports of the poor conditions at the processing centre and deeply worrying incidents, including assaults, sexual abuse, self-harm and child abuse.

What Is The UK Considering?

The latest media reports on 18th March 2021 seem to suggest that the Home Office is considering sending asylum seekers to Gibraltar and the Isle of Man and even paying third countries to process those seeking protection. What is most concerning is that they are still considering modelling the Australian system, which, as we have established, is alleged to be rife with abuses of basic human rights. In assessing the options available, Priti Patel appears to be particularly concerned with stopping migrants arriving in the UK on small boats. If they do proceed with implementing an offshore processing centre, it will clearly act as a considerable deterrent to asylum seekers crossing the English Channel, which is no doubt the intention.

So are we likely to see asylum seekers being sent to far-flung British territories or to paid third-countries? While the reports of specific potential locations for an offshore asylum processing centre have been dismissed as speculation, we can expect to see some form of announcement at some point outlining the government’s intention; potentially in the forthcoming Sovereign Borders Bill. The problem the government will have is finding a territory that will willingly accept an influx of UK asylum seekers. For this reason, it may be that the eventual plan is to find other solutions, such as using boats moored offshore within the British territories.

The Sovereign Borders Bill

A series of border policy changes are expected to be announced in the coming weeks as part of the Sovereign Borders Bill. While the scope of the Bill is not yet clear, its goal, according to the Telegraph, is to reform the “broken” asylum system, stop migrants from using Article 3 of the ECHR to avoid being deported to other safe countries, and “prevent foreign criminals making repeat and “vexatious” claims through the courts in an effort to delay their deportation”.

The Times has already reported that new “reception centres” will be built in the South of the UK to house migrants while their asylum applications are being processed. The intention here is to prevent the use of hotels for asylum seekers, which Home Office sources are reported to have said add to the “pull factor” of the UK. Some may reason, quite rightly, that housing asylum seekers in a hotel in a state of limbo are hardly a driving factor for anyone to cross the channel to be with their friends and family in the UK. The article also states the plan is that “Migrants who cross the Channel in small boats will be housed in the centres for up to six months, after which they will either be returned to the first safe country they came from or be moved into more permanent asylum accommodation”.

Understandably, charities working with refugees coming to the UK have reacted with frustration and disappointment at the ongoing lack of empathy and humanity being shown to genuine asylum seekers. As Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council charity, confirms, “There is no credible evidence that people seeking asylum come to the UK because they believe they will have a luxurious life. Far from living in luxury, only last week independent inspectors found the Home Office to be housing people in accommodation that is unfit for human habitation”.

Final Words

We will update you when the contents of the proposed Sovereign Borders Bill is formally announced. Until then, we can only speculate on the Home Office’s plans to reform the immigration and borders system. However, based on the information released through the media so far, the hostile environment is still very much the main policy of the government.


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"I found Joe very helpful and tremendous patience which is a must in this profes...

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Cheyam Shaked

"Anna Foley was the lawyer helping my partner obtain an EEA EFM visa. She was ou...

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