‘Inhumane & impractical’: UK interior minister in hot water over idea to ship asylum seekers 6,400km to remote Atlantic island
The reason for a massive public outcry against the British interior minister was a series of reports in the British media saying that Patel ordered her ministry to explore the “possibility” of constructing an asylum processing center on Ascension Island as part of a tougher approach to illegal immigration. The Home Office also reportedly consulted the Foreign & Commonwealth Office over the idea.
Yet, the choice of location apparently left a lot to be desired. Located more than 6,400 kilometers away from the UK and some 1,600 kilometers away from the nearest continent, which is Africa, the small remote volcanic rock in the middle of the South Atlantic has a somewhat ominous reputation.
It is a high-security island with a Royal Air Force base, a British-American intelligence facility, alongside some relay stations and facilities used by NASA and the European Space agency. Previously, it also hosted a military garrison guarding Napoleon, who was exiled to the neighboring St. Helena Island, and was a staging ground, more recently, for the British military during the Falklands/Malvinas war.
St. Helena, which at some point was also considered as a possible destination for Britain’s new asylum center, has an even more sinister legacy, since it was not just the place of Napoleon’s exile but was also used as a detention center for over 6,000 Boer prisoners for a couple of years during the second Anglo-Boer War.
The Home Office eventually ditched the idea of constructing a center on Ascension Island to host refugees there – but seemingly not due to moral qualms but due instead to its impracticality, the British media has reported.
Still, social media reaction to the news was still fierce. Patel has been called a “psychopath” and was compared to the Nazis over the plan, despite the fact it was ultimately ditched, at least for the time being. Hundreds of people, including politicians and public figures, rushed to Twitter to vent their anger and frustration over the would-be policies of the Tory government.
Priti Patel is a psychopath. https://t.co/GjqZe3se2E— Ian Betteridge 🇪🇺 (@ianbetteridge) September 30, 2020
I'm not even surprised anymore, I hope that decent tories speak out and damn the growing hatred and inhumanity. https://t.co/4LIo3wjAXe— Jess Phillips MP (@jessphillips) September 29, 2020
Shadow Home Secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds immediately declared the whole idea “ludicrous” as well as “inhumane, completely impractical and wildly expensive.”
This ludicrous idea is inhumane, completely impractical and wildly expensive. So it seems entirely plausible this Tory Government came up with it. https://t.co/3QZ9GBo7mM— Nick Thomas-Symonds MP (@NickTorfaen) September 29, 2020
His fellow Labour MP, Alistair Carmichael, meanwhile, sarcastically noted that Ascension Island got on the possible destinations list only because a facility on Mars was considered “slightly excessive.”
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. https://t.co/Fr1qj4qeVR— Alistair Carmichael (@amcarmichaelMP) September 29, 2020
Other public figures on Twitter simply denounced the plan as “truly nasty” and compared it to the Nazi’s plans to expelling Jews to the island of Madagascar. Some people also suggested sending the Tory government to some remote place instead.
Suggest sending a shower of government ministers to Ascension Island instead https://t.co/u8QGE4tAcs— Sarah Wollaston (@sarahwollaston) September 29, 2020
The media reports came ahead of the Tory party virtual conference this Sunday, at which Patel was expected to present her take on the issue of immigration. So, far her ministry appears to be undeterred by the massive outcry since its official line to the British media has been that the Home Office is still “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.”
Some other reports suggested that another location, closer to the UK, could be chosen to host the center instead. No other locations have been named so far. Nonetheless, the UK had experience in interning German nationals on the Isle of Man during WWII, for example.
Downing Street confirms the government is examining proposals for off shore asylum processing centers (as per @FinancialTimes scoop this morning) but potential locations are likely to be closer to the UK than Ascension Island.— Sebastian Payne (@SebastianEPayne) September 30, 2020
London would certainly not be the first administration to do this nowadays, either. Australia has been employing a similar practice involving sending asylum seekers to offshore detention centers on islands in the South Pacific, at least since the 1980s. The controversial practice has been repeatedly criticized by various human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch.
Now, with the UK once-again mulling a similar idea, some media rushed to assume the whole issue being a result of influence that former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott exerted on London. The politician, known for his tough stance on migration, is currently serving as a trade adviser to the British government.
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