Priti Patel’s plans to hold asylum seekers abroad deemed ‘cowardly’ and ‘inhumane’

'These cash-for-people plans are a cowardly, barbaric and inhumane way to treat refugees fleeing war and persecution,' said Refugee Action's CEO

Priti Patel

Home Secretary Priti Patel is making plans for asylum seekers to be sent overseas to be processed.

She is preparing to introduce new laws next week which will enable the government to send asylum-seekers abroad for processing.

The aim of this legislation is to discourage asylum seekers from making dangerous journeys across seas to Britain, as well as breaking up people-smuggling gangs.

The Home Secretary has opened talks with Denmark to discuss sharing a centre in Africa.

In the Nationality and Borders Bill there will be a provision to, for the first time, create an offshore immigration processing centre.

Home Office ministers have reportedly discussed these proposals with Denmark, where a law has already been introduced to process asylum seekers outside Europe, reports The Times.

Discussions were reportedly had about how Denmark manages the law domestically, negotiations with other countries and the possibility of sharing a processing centre, a government source said.

The Danes are reportedly going to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, with two ministers from Denmark travelling there last month to sign a memorandum.

Australia’s policy has also likely been studied by the Home Office. Under it, asylum seekers are not allowed to travel by sea and are redirected to offshore centres in places such as Papua New Guinea.

Tim Naor Hilton, CEO at Refugee Action, said: “These cash-for-people plans are a cowardly, barbaric and inhumane way to treat refugees fleeing war and persecution. 

“This is not who we are. A ‘Global Britain’ would not offshore its responsibilities thousands of miles away instead of doing its fair share to help some of the most vulnerable people on the planet. 

“The Government must find its backbone and create more safe routes for people to seek sanctuary in the UK, such family reunion schemes, humanitarian visas, and a resettlement programme that pledges to welcome 10,000 refugees a year.”

Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, said: “If it goes ahead, this plan is doomed to fail. The Australian experiment is living proof that offshore detention leads to catastrophic, tragic outcomes, including high levels of self-harm and mental illness, including amongst children searching for safety.

“This is an nasty and ill thought out policy. The fact is relatively few people come to the UK in search of safety. For a country of our wealth we should be doing much more to support victims of war and persecution who are in desperate need of safety – not sending people away to much poorer countries far less able to support them properly. 

“For the UK to be even considering such measures, sets an incredibly dangerous precedent, which completely undermines the 1951 Refugee Convention and the principle of asylum.

“The asylum system is in need of reform but offshore detention is not the answer. Threatening to send people away will not quash a person’s urgent need for protection. When your home is ravaged by war and brutality, all you are thinking about is finding safety any way that can be reached – not the cruel and viscous rhetoric banded around by this government.”

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Matthew Saltmarsh, a spokesperson for the UN Refugee Agency, said: “We see this kind of initiative as burden-shifting rather than responsibility-sharing.

“The international refugee support system is predicated on cooperation and without that, it basically breaks down. But the UK — it seems — is reportedly planning to offshore its asylum support to a much less well resourced African country.”

If introduced this new law would mark the biggest change to Britain’s asylum system in a whole generation. After looking at initial plans, the Labour Party has said they lack compassion.

The new system would see asylum seekers who arrive illegally get a downgraded status and they would only be considered for temporary leave to remain. These people would be denied any benefits and they would be reassessed frequently for removal.

According to a 50-page document setting out these plans, the government intends to “keep the option open, if required in the future, to develop the capacity for offshore asylum processing”.

Lucy Skoulding is a journalist and Human Rights student. Follow her on Twitter. 

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