Downing street confirmed on wednesday that the government is examining plans to create an offshore immigration processing centre for asylum seekers attempting to reach the uk.
The news came after the financial times revealed that home secretary priti patel had asked officials to explore the construction of an immigration centre on ascension island, over 4,000 miles away from britain in the south atlantic. the proposal was inspired by immigration camps created by the australian government.
A spokesperson for prime minister boris johnson said the government was examining options based on other countries. we are developing plans to reform our illegal migration and asylum policies so we can keep providing protection to those who need it, while preventing abuse of the system and criminality, the individual said.
As part of this work weve been looking at what a whole host of other countries do to inform a plan for the united kingdom. and that work is ongoing.
Downing streets confirmation of the plans comes after clandestine crossings by migrants using small boats to cross the english channel increased almost fivefold this year compared to 2019.
More than 400 migrants made the crossing in a single day last month, leading boris johnson to warn that britain had become a target and a magnet for those who would exploit vulnerable people in this way".
One downing street official said that while the remoteness of ascension island made it an unlikely processing site, a location closer to the uk was a more probable option.
The plan for an ascension island centre was dismissed by labour leader keir starmer as a ridiculous idea from an incompetent government. his spokesperson said the proposal was ludicrous, inhumane, completely impractical, and hugely expensive for taxpayers.
Colin yeo, an immigration barrister and author specialising in asylum law, said setting up an asylum processing centre in a third country such as morocco, would be problematic under the 1951 refugee convention.
If you intercept people and you remove them, the refugee convention prohibits you from indirectly returning them to their country of origin, he said. if you take them somewhere like north africa, you have to guarantee that they wont send them back to their country of origin because youre just not allowed to do that.
Tony blairs government considered a similar idea including a potential processing centre in tanzania in the early 2000s, but quickly concluded it was unfeasible.
Mr yeo said the current situation was different from 20 years ago when only 2 or 3 per cent won asylum claims, compared with over 50 per cent today. over half of people get asylum, he said. theyre actually genuine refugees and they have a genuine future in this country.
However, the proposal for a centre in the south atlantic has proved popular with conservative party supporters. according to a new survey from yougov, 40 per cent of the public supported the proposal including 62 per cent of tory voters.
With political pressure building on the home office to address the growing number of cross-channel migrants, two sources familiar with internal discussions said officials had been urged to engage in further blue-sky thinking to stem the flow.
Among the ideas discussed was to lay booms or barriers in parts of the channel to stop boats reaching the shore or investigate whether it would be possible to link small boats together to form a barrier to keep migrants from the shore.
Another blue-sky idea discussed, said one person with knowledge of internal deliberations, was to have boats with pumps generating waves that would force boats back into french waters but concerns were raised about the risk of capsizing migrants in already-overladen boats.
The tough stance follows a home office request for the armed forces to assist uk border force patrol operations in the dover straits. at the time the mod deployed an aircraft for a short period and said it was reviewing how we can most effectively assist the operations.
In august, ms patel appointed a former royal marine commando to the role of clandestine channel threat commander with official responsibility for making the channel route unviable for small boat crossings.