Asylum seekers could be sent to processing centres abroad under the home secretary’s plans to overhaul the immigration system, according to reports.
The British overseas territory of Gibraltar is a location under consideration by officials, according to the Times, as well as the Isle of Man and other islands off the British coast.
Priti Patel has pledged to stop migrants making the journey across the English Channel and is expected to publish details of plans overhauling the UK’s asylum and immigration system next week.
The Times said plans due to be set out by the home secretary will include a consultation on changing the law so that migrants seeking asylum can be sent to processing centres in third countries.
It follows a series of leaks last year suggesting the UK government was considering a number of offshore policies akin to those used in Australia. Speaking on Australia’s refugee policy in 2018, Human Rights Watch reported:
Many refugees and asylum seekers suffer from poor mental health or mental illness due to, or exacerbated by, years of detention and uncertainty about their futures. Self-harm and suicide attempts are frequent. At least 12 refugees and asylum seekers have died on Manus Island and Nauru since 2013. Two refugees with mental health conditions reportedly committed suicide on Manus and Nauru in 2018.
The leaked UK plans included sending asylum seekers to Ascension Island, more than 4,000 miles from the UK, to be processed, and turning disused ferries out at sea into processing centres. The ideas were dismissed by critics at the time as unfeasible, while Labour condemned the suggestion of an asylum processing centre on Ascension Island as “inhumane, completely impractical and wildly expensive”.
The government believes sending migrants to third countries for processing would be compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), according to reports. The Times said the new legislation will include life sentences for people smugglers and the establishment of migrant reception centres on government land, with many currently being housed in hotels.
Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council charity, condemned the proposed policy as “inhumane”.
He told the paper:
We know from the Australian model that offshore detention leads to appalling outcomes including high levels of self-harm and mental illness. It is an inhumane policy that undermines our nation’s proud tradition of providing protection to people fleeing persecution and terror many of whom have gone on to work as doctors and nurses in the NHS.
As we mark the 70th anniversary of the UN convention on refugees later this year we should be welcoming refugees, treating them with compassion.
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