Priti Patel asked officials to explore building an asylum processing centre on a volcanic outcrop in the middle of the south Atlantic, 4,000 miles from the UK.
A bombshell report in the Financial Times said that Patel wanted to build the centre on Ascension Island, a British overseas territory, to house migrants coming to Britain.
The home secretary’s officials also reportedly looked at the possibility of building an asylum centre on St Helena, part of the same group of islands – which are on the same latitude as southern Brazil and Namibia.
Patel’s plan to transfer asylum seekers to remote outcrops in the middle of the ocean appears to have since been dropped. The Foreign Office was reportedly consulted on the plan, and provided an assessment of its practicality.
Channel crossings comprise just a small proportion of the 34,000 who made asylum claims in the UK in the year up to June – but the actual number is estimated to be higher.
About 5,000 people had made the treacherous crossing in dinghies by the end of August – more than twice the number that made the trip in the whole of 2019.
Patel, the FT reported, was inspired by how other countries deal with so-called “illegal” migration – particularly in Australia, where there are several offshore asylum centres including Manus Island, which politicians have called a “stain on Australia’s conscience”.
It is rumoured that the controversial former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott – recently appointed a trade adviser to the government – influenced the proposal. He recently met with Patel.
Staging post for the Falkands
“We have been looking at how other countries have been dealing with this issue,” one source told the paper. “We have been scoping everything. No decisions have been made by ministers.”
Ascension Island has been used as a staging post to supply and defend the Falkland Islands, has an RAF base and a population of less than 1,000.
A Home Office official said: “The UK has a long and proud history of offering refuge to those who need protection. Tens of thousands of people have rebuilt their lives in the UK and we will continue to provide safe and legal routes in the future.
“As ministers have said we are developing plans to reform policies and laws around illegal migration and asylum to ensure we are able to provide protection to those who need it, while preventing abuse of the system and the criminality associated with it.”