Plans to ‘process’ asylum seekers on Scots islands opposed

Home secretary Priti Patel is reportedly considering proposals to set up a processing centre for asylum seekers in Scotland.

Plans to ‘process’ asylum seekers on Scots islands opposed Getty Images
Migrants packed tightly onto a small inflatable boat attempting to cross the English Channel.

The Scottish Government has hit back at reports the UK could send asylum seekers to Scotland for processing under Priti Patel’s plans to overhaul the immigration system.

The Times reported on Thursday the home secretary will publish details next week of plans for the biggest overhaul of the asylum and immigration system for a generation.

The newspaper said the plans include a consultation on changing the law so migrants seeking asylum can be sent to processing centres in third countries.

It understands that Gibraltar, a British overseas territory, and the Isle of Man, a Crown dependency, have been discussed by officials – with other islands off the British coast, including Scotland, are said to be under consideration.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “These reports are very concerning, and should they be accurate we would strongly oppose them.

“We have consistently urged the UK Government to introduce a more humane, common-sense approach to asylum which treats people with dignity and respect.”

Gibraltar’s government said it had not received any proposal on the issue from the UK and chief minister Fabian Picardo has written to the home secretary to say it will not happen.

The Isle of Man said it has not been contacted by the UK Government about any proposals.

Patel has vowed to stop migrants making the perilous journey across the English Channel and is expected to publish details of plans overhauling the UK’s asylum and immigration system in the coming weeks.

The Scottish Refugee Council expressed concern at the reported proposals.

Gary Christie, head of policy, communications and communities at the Scottish Refugee Council said: “We are deeply worried by these inhumane and cruel plans.

“Seeking asylum is a human right, and people seeking protection must be treated with dignity and respect at all stages throughout the asylum process.

“We need grown-up solutions to the real-world problems facing refugees, the UK asylum system and the communities in which they live, not these outlandish and unrealistic plans.

“The alleged consideration of Scottish islands in a proposal like this is unacceptable. People in Scotland want to help refugees, but never ever like this. The UK Government must do better than this.”

Downing Street did not deny the Home Office is looking at proposals of using Gibraltar and other overseas territories to process asylum seekers.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “I’m not going to pre-empt what we will set out in the coming weeks.

“I would just point back to what Priti Patel and the Prime Minister said before about the need not only to fix our asylum system but to try and ensure people aren’t making these incredibly dangerous journeys across the Channel.”

A series of leaks last year suggested the UK Government was considering a number of offshore policies akin to those used in Australia.

These included sending asylum seekers to Ascension Island, more than 4000 miles from the UK, to be processed, and turning disused ferries out at sea into processing centres.

The ideas were dismissed by critics at the time as unfeasible, while Labour condemned the suggestion of an asylum processing centre on Ascension Island as “inhumane, completely impractical and wildly expensive”.

The Government believes sending migrants to third countries for processing would be compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights, according to reports.

Patel told MPs: “As we reform the asylum system, Global Britain will continue its proud tradition of providing safe haven to those in need through safe and legal routes.”

Her comments came in a written ministerial statement which said the UK had met a 2015 commitment to resettle 20,000 refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria.

She also announced £14m of funding to help newly granted refugees to integrate in the UK, with pilot schemes to help them learn English, move into work, access housing and build links in their local communities.

British Red Cross chief executive Mike Adamson said: “Offshoring the UK’s asylum system will do nothing to address the reasons people take dangerous journeys in the first place and will almost certainly have grave humanitarian consequences.”