UK asylum: the offshore options officials were told to consider | Immigration and asylum

Downing Street and ministers have asked Foreign Office officials to consider a wide range of options to deter asylum seekers from attempting to cross the Channel to the UK. Here are some of the ideas that have been reported:

Offshore asylum processing facilities

Documents seen by the Guardian showed that No 10 suggested locations for third-country options including:

Morocco – Foreign Office officials said all five North African countries had rejected an earlier EU proposal for an offshore facility, adding it was highly unlikely that any North African state would agree to a UK proposal due to the fear of it becoming a pull factor for inward migration from sub-Saharan Africa.

Papua New Guinea – Officials said Papua New Guinea had “significant political and logistical obstacles”, and advised against pursuing it as an option. There are no direct commercial flights connecting the UK and PNG, which are more than 8,500 miles apart.

Moldova – Officials said Moldova had a “protracted conflict” on its territory due to the unresolved status of Transnistria and the illegal presence of foreign troops in the region. They added: “Corruption within the Moldovan state apparatus is endemic.” An asylum centre would need to depend on “reliable, transparent, credible” cooperation from the host country justice system, which Moldova could not provide.

Ascension Island and St Helena – These islands are more than 5,000 miles away in the south Atlantic. Plans to process asylum seekers there would be “extremely expensive and logistically complicated” given the remoteness of the islands. The estimated build cost per 1,000 beds was £220m with running costs of £200m. One document added: “In relation to St Helena, we will need to consider if we are willing to impose the plan if the local government object.”

Other options

Retired ferries or oil rigs – The Times reported that one of the options being considered was buying retired ferries and converting them into asylum-processing centres. The newspaper was also told that the Home Office held discussions about moving migrants to decommissioned oil platforms in the North Sea, but ministers decided that was a “no go”. It reported that the plan to “move migrants to ships is thought more realistic and is being given serious consideration”.

Blockades in the Channel – The documents seen by the Guardian, produced in the middle of September, revealed that a blockade similar to Australia’s “turn back the boats” tactics, using UK boats to block the path of migrants in small boats, had been trialled in the Channel.

Floating barriers – A report in the Financial Times revealed that the government launched a consultation with the maritime industry to explore the construction of floating walls in the Channel to block asylum seekers.

Repurposing immigration detention centresYarl’s Wood, a former women’s immigration removal centre, has been temporarily repurposed to house people who have arrived on small boats across the Channel. The Guardian revealed that Morton Hall, an immigration detention centre criticised for inhumane conditions, was also being considered.


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