Priti Patel ‘looked at sending asylum seekers to tiny volcanic islands’

Priti Patel faced ridicule today after it emerged she considered sending asylum seekers trying to enter Britain 4,000 miles to a remote Atlantic outcrop for processing.

Under an extraordinary scheme that was later ditched, the Home Office considered using Ascension Island, a British overseas territory surrounded by water for at least 800 miles in all directions.    

Ms Patel abandoned the plan after instructing her officials to drill down into the practicalities of such a project, according to the Financial Times.

But officials said that she is still keen on ‘offshoring’ people attempting to reach the UK if a suitable site can be found. 

Such schemes are used by nations including Australia, which has used offshore processing and detention centres on nearby Islands in the south Pacific for asylum seekers since the 1980s. 

Ms Patel recently met with former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott, known for his tough stance on immigration, who was appointed by Boris Johnson as a trade adviser to the UK.

The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman said today that ministers were ‘looking at what a whole host of other countries do to informs plan for the United Kingdom. That work is ongoing.’ He declined to comment on where they might be held.

It is unclear where a similar plan near the UK could be based, but the Isle of Man was previously used to house interned German nationals and prisoners of war in the Second World War. 

St Helena, where Napoleon was exiled after his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, was also touted as a potential site for a facility, the FT reported.

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: ‘This ludicrous idea is inhumane, completely impractical and wildly expensive. So it seems entirely plausible this Tory Government came up with it.’ 

Priti Patel (pictured at the FCO last week) considered building an asylum processing centre on a remote volcanic island in the south Atlantic, it was claimed last night

Under an extraordinary scheme, the Home Office would ship asylum seekers 4,000 miles from the UK to Ascension Island (pinpointed), a British overseas protectorate

Remote volcanic outcrop was the last home of Bonaparte 

The islands of St Helena and Ascension are the most remote landfalls in the South Atlantic. 

St Helena is famous as the final prison of Napoleon Bonaparte. 

The French emperor was sent there after his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, because his previous exile on the Mediterranean island of Elba had not prevented his return to power in Paris. 

Napoleon died from cancer on St Helena in 1821 but claims remain that he was poisoned by his British gaolers with arsenic.

He was buried there before being exhumed and given a hero’s funeral in Paris in 1840. 

Napoleon died from cancer on St Helena in 1821 but claims remain that he was poisoned by his British gaolers with arsenic.

St Helena is eyewateringly remote: It is 4,600 miles from the UK, and even 1,200 miles from Africa, the closest mainland.

The volcanic outcrop is just 10 miles by five miles in size – toughly the same size as Jersey – and had a population of 4,534 in 2016. 

It has an airport but it did not get its first scheduled flight until 2017. 

Ascension is just as remote. It is 800 miles north west of St Helena, 4,100 miles from the UK, 1,000 miles from Africa and 1,400 miles from South America. Its population is around 800.

It was an important coaling station in the days of steamships and a Second World War and Cold War base. 

But its most recent notable event took place during the Falklands War in 1982.

RAF Ascension was used as a staging post for Operation Black Buck, which saw Vulcan bombers fly to attack the Argentine-held airport at Stanley in the Falkland Islands.

The 6,000-mile round trip saw the bombers repeatedly refuelled in the air and was the longest-range air attack in history at the time. 

And his Lib Dem counterpart, Alistair Carmichael, added: ‘Priti Patel wanted to store UK asylum seekers on a South Atlantic island. I assume that building a Mars outpost to keep people in was considered slightly excessive? 

‘An utterly shameful, dehumanising attitude on show here by one of the most senior members of the government.’ 

The Foreign Office was consulted on the proposals, according to the paper, and provided an assessment on the logistics of shipping migrants to such locations. 

The Home Office last night did not deny the claims but pointed to Britain’s ‘proud history of offering refuge to those who need protection’.

It was also dismissed on Wednesday as an unfeasible, ‘logistical nightmare’ by a member of the Ascension Island Council, Alan Nicholls.

He said he had only found out about the possibility when contacted by journalists and worried that security concerns from the presence of two military bases on the island could make it ‘prohibitive’.

‘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,’ Mr Nicholls told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

He also spoke of concerns among the locals on the island, with a population of less than 1,000, of forcing migrants there during the coronavirus pandemic.

‘There could be quite an influx of individuals and at this state and time with pandemic lockdowns and everything else, I don’t think that anybody would be very receptive to that,’ the councillor said.  

Ascension Island, which is used as a staging post to supply and defend the Falkland Islands, has an RAF base and population of fewer than 1,000.

Moving asylum seekers there and keeping them supplied was said to represent a considerable logistical challenge. 

The proposal appears to further reflect the influence on UK policy-making of Australia, which has used offshore processing and detention centres for asylum seekers since the 1980s.

The Government has based its post-Brexit points-based immigration system on that developed in Australia. 

The Home Secretary is grappling with a surge in migrants crossing the Channel in recent months.

Some 90 hotels are being used by the Home Office to house migrants being processed, including four-star accommodation under a £4billion outsourcing contract. 

There has been a surge in the number of migrants arriving in Britain this year, with media reports suggesting that about 1,500 people travelled across the English Channel in small boats and dinghies in August alone.

In total, there were more than 32,000 asylum applications in the United Kingdom in the year ending June 2020.

The FT said the idea was evidence of the influence of former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott, who was appointed as a UK trade adviser earlier this month. Australia has used offshore detention centres on the Pacific islands of Nauru, and on Manus in Papua New Guinea. 

Ms Patel recently met with former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott, known for his tough stance on immigration, who was appointed by Boris Johnson as a trade adviser to the UK

Ascension Island, which is used as a staging post to supply and defend the Falkland Islands, has an RAF base and population of fewer than 1,000

RAF Ascension was used as a staging post for Operation Black Buck, which saw Vulcan bombers (pictured) fly to attack the Argentine-held airport at Stanley in the Falkland Islands in 1982

Australia’s policies and management of the detention centres have repeatedly been criticised by the United Nations and human rights groups. Asylum seekers intercepted at sea and sent to the camps can never settle in Australia, even if they are found to be genuine refugees

A Home Office official 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 we are able to provide protection to those who need it, while preventing abuse of the system and the criminality associated with it.’

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