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Plan for offshore asylum centres

Last week it was revealed that the UK Home Secretary, Priti Patel, is pushing ahead with plans to move asylum claims processing offshore. The Nationality and Borders Bill which includes these plans is due to have its first reading in the House of Commons today.


A similar bill was recently introduced by Denmark, who are reportedly planning to send people seeking asylum to a centre in Rwanda. According to the Times, government sources claimed UK officials discussed these plans with their Danish counterparts, as well as the potential for the UK and Denmark to share any such centre.


While the Home Office has denied any plans to share an offshore processing centre with Denmark, the processing of asylum claims abroad or offshore has frequently been considered by ministers in the UK and the EU. Australia’s approach, in which all asylum seekers who arrive by sea are held in centres in Papua New Guinea, has received much attention, however it has been decried by human rights organisations for the appalling conditions and the high incidence of severe mental health concerns among detainees. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has criticised the UK’s new plans, describing them as “burden-shifting rather than responsibility-sharing”.


BHN condemns this cruel and punitive policy. The UK has a proud history of offering sanctuary to those who need it, and people should be able to live in dignity, no matter how they arrived in the UK. Despite the current government’s hostile approach, reporting from Together with Refugees shows that the majority of UK residents continue to demonstrate compassion and solidarity with asylum seekers and refugees, with 64% of UK residents agreeing that we should protect refugees fleeing war and persecution.


So far this year 5,676 people have crossed the Channel. While this is a higher figure than previous years, government reporting shows that the overall number of asylum claims in the UK has dropped substantially in recent years. Offshoring has little effect on preventing dangerous sea crossings. Instead, the UK must create and maintain safe and legal routes for those in need of international protection to access their right to seek asylum. Moving asylum seekers offshore is not the answer. It sets a dangerous precedent, and ‘out of sight, out of mind’ is one step before complete rejection of the right of sanctuary.


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