It’s no secret that the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, wants to shake up what she’s called a broken asylum system. Details about what she has in mind are due to be published next week. Speculation is rife and concern at fever pitch over reported plans for sending asylum seekers to overseas processing centres.
That’s hardly surprising given some of the ways the UK government has chosen to treat this vulnerable group of people. Some, for example, are still being housed in former army barracks where conditions were recently described as cramped, filthy, and unfit for habitation.
So what could the Home Secretary be planning? If reports this week are to be believed, she wants to pack off those who reach the UK in unofficial ways, such as crossing the Channel in small boats, to a third country while their claims are considered.
In effect, this would create a payment for processing policy. This is at a time when asylum claims in the UK are falling. They remain far lower than in other countries such as France and Germany, making the situation in the UK far more manageable.
Some reports say Ms Patel’s been eyeing Gibraltar and the Isle of Man as places to create overseas processing centres. Both territories deny they’ve been approached.
We certainly don’t want our islands being used to carry out such inhumane practices that could breach human rights law
Some Scottish islands have also been mooted as possibilities. The SNP’s home affairs spokesperson, Stuart McDonald, who sits on the home affairs select committee in Westminster, held nothing back when asked for his reaction to such a move.
‘The people of Scotland and the SNP Scottish government want nothing to do with the cruel and callous policies peddled by the Tory government, and we certainly don’t want our islands being used to carry out such inhumane practices that could breach human rights law.’
Sources close to the government have since said that while the idea of offshoring claims is on the table, specific destinations haven’t been nailed down yet.
It’s all reminiscent of the highly controversial model adopted by Australia, a system that’s been derided by migration experts and humanitarian organisations.
Charities say ‘offshoring’ the UK’s asylum system doesn’t get to the nub of the issue which is why people take dangerous journeys in the first place. They say those feeling conflict need to be put at the heart of local communities and not shipped off to third-party countries.
They also point out that overseas processing centres are very expensive and have flagged up a genuine concern that such a policy will lead to more instances of self-harming, mental health issues and suicide amongst those affected.
The Refugee Council described the policy as inhumane and one that went against the UK’s tradition of providing protection to people fleeing persecution and terror, many of whom have gone on to work in the NHS.
The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, disagrees, ‘The objective is a humanitarian one and a humane one, which is to stop the abuse of these people by a bunch of traffickers and gangsters. That’s what we’re trying to do.’
It will be the UK government which will instead put the lives of vulnerable, already traumatised people at risk if it goes ahead with an offshoring policy.
Experts say desperate people forced to flee violence and abuse will continue to take huge risks regardless. They say it will be the UK government which will instead put the lives of vulnerable, already traumatised people at risk if it goes ahead with an offshoring policy.
Speculation is also mounting that asylum seekers whose claims are rejected will only get one chance to appeal against decisions to deport them. That would mean that any legal attempt to overturn a deportation ruling would have to be submitted at the same time.
The Home Office is keen to speed up the deportation process. Campaigners are right to be alarmed. Well publicised precedents clearly show an over-zealous government department trying to deport as many people as it can.
In February last year, the government deported 17 British residents on a specially arranged flight to Jamaica. It had planned to make 33 more deportations on the same aircraft but most were stopped by a court of appeal injunction because of access to justice concerns.
Lawyers for some of those caught up in the Windrush scandal condemned the Home Office decision to charter the deportation flight.
They described deportation as the pinnacle of the hostile environment, adding that it required legislative reform. They said it should feature in the work that the Home Office has to do after the Windrush Lesson Learned review.
The shakeup Priti Patel plans for the UK’s asylum system looks likely to be controversial. That means more court cases and more protests from charities and refugee groups are almost inevitable.
Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow home secretary said, ‘The Tories are lurching from one inhumane, ridiculous proposal to another. Last year they were talking about creating waves in the English Channel to wash boats back and buying ferries and oil rigs to process asylum claims. These absurd ideas show the government has lost control and all sense of compassion.’
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