UK considered sending asylum seekers to south Atlantic, FT reports

Migrants in a dinghy sailing in the Channel toward the south coast of England on Sept 1, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (REUTERS) - Britain considered a plan to send asylum seekers 4,000 miles (6,400km) away to holding centres on its remote overseas territories in the south Atlantic but the idea, described as "ludicrous" by opponents, was later dropped, the Financial Times reported.

According to the paper, the Home Office (interior ministry) looked into building migrant processing centres on the volcanic islands of Ascension and St Helena, having looked into how other countries dealt with issues of illegal migration.

However, Home Secretary Priti Patel dropped the plan after officials were consulted on the practicality of shipping the asylum seekers to the locations, the FT said.

"This ludicrous idea is inhumane, completely impractical and wildly expensive," Mr Nick Thomas-Symonds, the opposition Labour Party's home affairs spokesman, said on Twitter.

The Home Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but the paper quoted an official as saying Britain had a proud history of offering refuge to those who needed protection.

"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," the official was quoted as saying.

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.

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.

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