In Brief

Explained: Priti Patel’s shelved plan to ship asylum seekers to south Atlantic

Home Office officials asked to look into building migrant centres on Ascension and St Helena

Priti Patel asked officials to explore sending asylum seekers to isolated islands 4,000 miles from the UK in the south Atlantic, it has emerged.

The home secretary made the suggestion of transferring migrants to Ascension, an isolated volcanic British territory, and St Helena, which is part of the same island group but 800 miles away. 

The Foreign Office was “consulted on the plan and provided an assessment of the practicality of shipping asylum seekers to the remote locations”, the Financial Times reports.

Several Whitehall officials told the paper that Patel “had ordered work on how other countries dealt with what Home Office ministers have called ‘illegal’ migration”, drawing inspiration from Australia, which runs a number of offshore asylum centres.

Allies of the home secretary said that the idea was not going ahead, however, individuals close to her department said an offshore asylum centre had been on the table.

A Home Office source made no mention of the plan, but told Sky News that ministers “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”.

Responding to the news, Labour shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds, tweeted: “This ludicrous idea is inhumane, completely impractical and wildly expensive. So it seems entirely plausible this Tory government came up with it.”

Ascension Island, which has a population of less than 1,000, houses a Royal Air Force airfield and was used to launch aerial attacks during the Falklands conflict. St Helena “is also one of the most isolated islands in the world, lying 1,210 miles off the west coast of Africa”, The Guardian adds.

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