In trouble in the polls since the summer, Boris Johnson and his Conservative ministers are doing everything possible to give the impression that they are staying true to a flagship Brexit promise: curb immigration to the United Kingdom. Proposals to restrict the asylum procedure – or rather, officially, fight against its abuse – have rocketed in recent days. They are one more wacky than the other.
Home Affairs Minister Priti Patel plans to send asylum seekers to the islands of Ascension or St. Helena, revealed the Financial Times Wednesday. These two Crown Confetti in the South Atlantic, halfway between Angola and Brazil, are located more than 6,000 km from the United Kingdom. The objective of Priti Patel? Discourage the Channel crossings in rubber dinghies, which since the start of the year have been nearly five times more frequent than in 2019. She herself a symbol of integration, since she was born in London to Hindu parents immigrants from Uganda, the minister is due to speak on the subject on Saturday before a convention of the torys.
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Transferring asylum seekers to Saint Helena recalls the exile imposed by London on Napoleon. It was also to keep an eye on the vanquished emperor that the Royal Navy had established in 1815 a first base on the neighboring island of Ascension, then uninhabited.
Inspired by the policy pursued since the 1980s by Australia, which has set up asylum treatment centers on the Pacific islands, the London proposal has not raised enthusiasm in the islands concerned, it is the least we can say. “It would be extremely expensive, and it would be a logistical nightmare,” Alan Nicholls, an elected official from Ascension Island, told the BBC.
Among the ideas being considered is also the installation of ship dams on the Channel to prevent rubber boats from crossing it. And even, according to the Financial Times, the possibility of creating powerful artificial currents in order to push the boats back to the French coasts… All this seems difficult to apply, especially as the English Channel is a major seaway for commercial navigation.
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“These ridiculous ideas are inhuman, impossible to apply and horribly expensive”
Never mind, other avenues are being explored. According to the daily Times in London on Thursday, the Prime Minister’s office is considering sending asylum seekers to Moldova, Morocco, or even to the other side of the planet, to Papua New Guinea … But that could cost a lot of money and to raise endless diplomatic and legal issues, the newspaper observes. The Foreign Office is very reserved.
Priti Patel and her teams are also talking about settling asylum seekers on disused British oil platforms in the North Sea, pending their case being examined. But then again, the suggestion seems as expensive as it is impractical. The platforms are cramped and inconvenient, we can hardly accommodate more than 100 people, crowded like sardines. And London is supposed to dismantle them.
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Other options seem more realistic, says the Times London, such as the use of a Scottish island – but Scotland might object – or ships anchored offshore. London has reportedly approached Barbados to buy an old cruise ship and Italy to acquire an old ferry. “We are studying every possibility that could allow us to rectify the asylum system and stop illegal crossings on small boats,” a source from the Interior Ministry told the BBC.
Currently, asylum seekers who manage to cross the Channel are accommodated in hostels or collective apartments, especially in Kent, while waiting for their application to be processed. The procedure takes around 6 months during which the migrants are not allowed to work. They receive from the public authorities a nest egg of just over 5 pounds per day.
The Labor opposition rejected the government’s reflections. “These ridiculous ideas are inhuman, impossible to implement and horribly expensive,” commented Labor expert Nick Thomas-Symonds. That is why it is quite plausible that this Conservative government is taking it up. “