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REFUGEE charities have branded plans considered by Priti Patel to “offshore” vulnerable asylum seekers to islands 4,000 miles from Britain “inhumane” and “ludicrous.”
The Home Secretary came under fire today after it was revealed that she had flirted with the idea of building an asylum centre on Ascension Island, a British territory in the Atlantic Ocean.
The Financial Times reported that the idea was dropped after the Foreign Office was consulted on the plan and decided not to proceed.
Refugee charities today condemned the idea as “immoral and inhumane,” with one calling for the Home Secretary to resign.
Minnie Rahman, public-affairs and campaigns officer at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said: “This proposal is so ridiculous it’s almost laughable.
“We’ve been asking Priti Patel to introduce safe, simple and sensible ways for asylum seekers to gain protection in the UK for years, but somehow she appears to have interpreted this as ‘open up a prison in the south Atlantic.’
“The evidence is mounting that Priti Patel is not up for the job. She clearly cannot operate within the realms of logic and reason, and should no longer remain in post.”
Refugee Action accused the Home Office of “sinking to its lowest level yet.”
Stephen Hale, the charity’s chief executive, said: “It’s deeply troubling that our Home Secretary even considered that this immoral and inhumane plan was a serious solution to a humanitarian crisis.”
Officials were allegedly told to look at other countries’ systems of dealing with “illegal” immigration, including Australia, which has run a number of offshore asylum centres since the 1980s.
Ms Rahman said it was “deeply concerning” that officials had appeared to draw inspiration from the Australian model.
“Their offshore detention centres are places of cruelty and neglect that have been roundly condemned by human-rights groups and the United Nations,” she said.
“Why any government would seek to emulate them is baffling.”
Opposition politicians also criticised the idea, with a spokesperson for Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer branding it a “ridiculous idea from an incompetent government.”
Amnesty UK said that the plans, which came to light just before the publication of the Home Office’s response to the Windrush Lessons Learnt review, contradicted Ms Patel’s promises to overhaul the department.
Writing in the Comprehensive Improvement plan published on Wednesday, Ms Patel insisted that she is leading an “unprecedented programme of change” which aims to build “a fairer, more compassionate Home Office that puts people first.”
But Amnesty’s refugee and migrants rights director Steve Valdez-Symonds said that the Ascension Island revelations undermine that supposed committment.
“It is simply impossible to draw any other conclusion than that ministers’ willingness to pursue policy that defies consideration of the needs, rights and welfare of women, men and children affected by it — and to do so behind closed doors — is unchanged,” he said.
A Home Office official said that it was 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 Ascension Island proposal is the latest indication of the government’s willingness to run roughshod over the rights of refugees in its bid to deter them from crossing the Channel to Britain.
Earlier this year, Ms Patel threatened to deploy the Navy to intercept small boats crossing the Channel, a move Amnesty UK claimed would endanger the lives of asylum seekers.
Meanwhile another Home Office charter flight took place on Tuesday night, deporting 11 asylum seekers to Sweden and Finland.
According to Corporate Watch analysis, the removal flight was the sixth during September alone, following a pledge by the Home Secretary to deport 1,000 refugees by the end of the year.
Detention Action claimed that a psychologically unwell and elderly man had been scheduled to be on the flight but was removed after a last-minute legal challenge.
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