Ministers are considering converting retired ferries off the coast to process asylum seekers in the UK.
According to Refugee Action, 35,566 asylum applications were made in the UK in 2019 – down from a peak of 844,000 in 2002.
Downing Street said other countries were looking at what they were doing “to inform the UK of any plans”.
Labor has called the proposal to process people on ferries “not liable”.
Matthew Rycroft, a senior civil servant at the Home Office, said “everything is on the table” when he spoke of “improving” the UK’s asylum system.
Home Secretary Preeti Patel has asked officials to look at the policy, including housing persons seeking offshore shelter.
The Financial Times reported on Tuesday that the Foreign Office had made an assessment for Ascension Island, a remote area in the Atlantic Ocean – including the effectiveness of transferring thousands of miles of passengers – and decided not to move forward.
Now the Times reports that the government is “seriously considering” the idea of buying retired ferries and converting them into processing centers, but reports that the Home Office has rejected offers to use the growing oil platform in the North Sea.
The study also found that the processing of migrants was considered on an island off the coast of Scotland, but Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon Tweeted That “any proposal to treat people like cattle in the holding pen will be met with strong potential opposition from me”.
Appearing before the Public Affairs Committee, Permanent Secretary Mr Rycroft said he would not comment on the leaks in the newspapers, but that the department had an “intelligent” idea.
He said: “We were looking at what the whole host of other countries was doing to bring innovation to our country’s system.
“No decision has been made. No final proposal has been made to the ministers … It is at the enchanting stage of future policy.”
Mr Rycroft said the UK would “always comply with our international obligations” and that civil servants would evaluate the various possible concepts out there “in order to gain legitimate and which practical knowledge” … so that ministers could make the final decision.
How can the government persuade fewer people to take the channel to the south coast?
Well, one idea is to make it clear that a successful crossing doesn’t have to mean anything in the UK – at least not in the short term.
The government is looking for “all sorts of alternatives” – not me, but senior civil servants in the Home Office.
So are recent headlines about asylum seekers moving to a rock in the middle of the South Atlantic-Ascension Islands or buying a ferry.
Keep in mind, however, that the number of boats coming over the channel is a record high, yet they are a small proportion of the total number of asylum seekers arriving in the UK.
And the rows about the shelter are far from new.
Twenty years ago, the then Home Secretary, Jack Straw, found himself in a constant tussle with his own party about what the Labor government should do about the issue.
So this is a historic issue for both color parties.
Nick Thomas-Symonds, Labour’s shadow home secretary, said Labor would oppose any move to use the ferry return, adding: “Even if it feels horrible.”
He accused the government of “rejecting from one inhuman and unconventional idea to another” and claimed that it had “lost control and all maya feelings”.
SNP Home Affairs spokeswoman Joanna Cherry said the leaked plans were “foolish” by the government, and that they would “treat vulnerable asylum seekers as cattle rather than human beings.”
But Adam Holloway, a Conservative MP for Gravesham in Kent, said the Home Office was “absolutely right” to look at other options that were “somewhat constrained” for asylum seekers.
He told Radio 4’s Today program: “We need to break this link in people’s minds that if you arrive in Britain you will be in Britain, you will be in a hotel and you will be accommodated.”
He added that there was a need to look for a “civilized version” of the model used by the UK to Australia, which has been controversially using offshore processing and detention centers for asylum seekers since the 1980s.
The talk came that a record number of people were going to the channel in the UK with 400 people attending in one day in September.
A Home Office source said this week that ministers were looking into the option of “stopping each boat and fixing the shelter”, but no final decision has been made.
This year around 1,000,000 people arrived in the UK in more than 500 small boats – as of September 23, 2016, there were 1,792 migrants a month.
However they still have a small proportion of asylum seekers coming to the UK.
Tory MP Natalie Elfick, who represents Dover, said the government was “clear that they would take the necessary steps to stop this small boat crossing.”
He told BBC No. 10 that the Home Office was looking for “full range of issues” to address Europe’s “draw factor”, from cruise ships and ferries to offshore fast track assessment centers, to “law” through immigration changes.
Earlier in the day, Cabinet Minister Michael Gove told Parliament that the government was actively watching “every step we can take” to stop illegal crossings on the English Channel so that the UK could “keep our promise of safe haven” but “protect our borders”.
Worthy of shelter
To be eligible for asylum in the UK, applicants must prove that they cannot return to their home country because they fear persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, gender identity or sexual orientation.
The case decides if the asylum seeker has a legitimate claim, taking into account factors such as country of origin or evidence of discrimination.
It is expected to be done in six months but delays in processing claims have increased significantly compared to last year.
While waiting for a decision to be made, asylum seekers are usually not allowed to work and are initially housed in hostel-type accommodation before arranging long-term accommodation.
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