Priti patel asked officials to explore the construction of an asylum processing centre on ascension island, a british overseas territory more than 4,000 miles from the uk in the south atlantic, for migrants coming to britain.
The home secretarys officials also looked at the possibility of building an asylum centre on st helena, part of the same island group.but the idea of transferring asylum seekers to remote volcanic outcrops appears to have been dropped by ms patel. the foreign office was consulted on the plan and provided an assessment of the practicality of shipping asylum seekers to the remote locations.
Ms patel is expected to address migration across the english channel in a speech to the virtual conservative party conference on sunday.
Channel crossings make up only a small proportion of the more-than-34,000 people who registered asylum claims in the uk in the year to june, but unofficial estimates suggest the numbers using the route have grown.
By the end of august about 5,000 people had arrived in dinghies, more than twice the 1,890 seen in the whole of 2019. the issue has become a campaigning issue for rightwing politicians, notably brexit party leader nigel farage.
Several whitehall officials told the financial times that ms patel had ordered work on how other countries dealt with what home office ministers have called illegal migration including the approach in australia, which runs several offshore asylum centres.
Allies of ms patel insisted the idea was not going to happen. the home secretary would not want something like this. but individuals close to her confirmed an offshore asylum centre had been considered.
We have been looking at how other countries have been dealing with this issue, said one well-placed individual. we have been scoping everything. no decisions have been made by ministers.
Ascension island, used as a staging post to supply and defend the falkland islands, has an raf base and a population of less than 1,000; moving asylum seekers there after they had arrived in the uk would pose a major logistical challenge.
Australia has used offshore processing and detention centres for asylum seekers since the late 1980s.
The proposal is further evidence of the influence of tony abbotts ideas on the johnson government. the former australian prime minister, who is known for his tough stance on immigration, was appointed as a trade adviser to the johnson government and recently met with ms patel.
Ms patels team also looked at the idea, considered by the eu, of creating a centre for processing asylum claims in north africa so that migrants could be screened before making the hazardous trip to britain. the plan echoes proposals put forward by brussels when the uk was still a member.
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.
Additional reporting by robert wright