October 21, 2020

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Outcry after reports Britain considered sending asylum seekers to island in the South Atlantic

The British Home Office appears to have since scrapped plans to send asylum seekers to such far-flung locations, the newspaper reported.

But even that the idea had been floated drew ire from opposition lawmakers and human rights advocates in Britain, who called it “heartless” and more.

“This ludicrous idea is inhumane, completely impractical and wildly expensive — so it seems entirely plausible this Tory government came up with it,” tweeted Nick Thomas-Symonds, the Labour Party’s shadow home secretary.

The concept also drew comparisons to Australia’s controversial offshore migrant processing centers, which Australian officials have defended as necessary to stop dangerous sea crossings to Australia but which human rights advocates have long condemned as cruel.

A spokesman for 10 Downing Street confirmed that the British government is reviewing policies on illegal migration and asylum seekers but did not offer further details.

A Home Office official said in an emailed statement: “The U.K. 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 U.K. 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,” the statement said.

A poll by YouGov.com found Britons split on the concept of an asylum processing center on Ascension Island: Forty percent said it was a good idea, 35 percent objected, and 25 percent said they did not know.

Patel has pledged to crack down on a recent surge in boats carrying migrants and asylum seekers across the English Channel. This month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that he had sympathy for people fleeing difficult conditions at home but that crossing the Channel “also undermines the legitimate claims of others who seek asylum in this country.”

“We will address the rigidities in our laws that make this country, I’m afraid, a target and a magnet for those who would exploit vulnerable people in this way,” he said.

In August alone, nearly 1,500 people crossed the Channel in small boats, according to the BBC.

Conservative lawmaker Laura Trott said it was “absolutely right” that Britain was investigating offshore options as a way to “reduce the pressure” on Kent, where many boats are landing after crossing the Channel, the BBC reported.

Labour lawmaker Zarah Sultana tweeted that such a plan would be “an utterly heartless way to treat desperate people.”

For years, Australia has refused entry to asylum seekers attempting to reach the country by boat. Instead, passengers were redirected to offshore processing centers on Nauru and Manus Island, where many have languished for years without being resettled.

In Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s office, he keeps a small statue of a boat, with the words “I Stopped These,” inscribed on the side, the New York Times has reported.

Advocates warned in recent years that children housed in the offshore centers were exhibiting signs of resignation disorder, a medical condition brought on by extreme stress that can cause individuals to stop speaking or eating. Some children have attempted suicide.

Karla Adam in London contributed to this report.