UK plan to ship asylum seekers to a remote island is reportedly a sign of Tony Abbott's influence

A Financial Times report suggested the UK's consideration of offshore processing reflected the influence of former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott, who was recently appointed a trade adviser to Britain.

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel's (right) consideration of offshore processing is reportedly a sign of Tony Abbott's (left) influence.

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel (right) poses for a photo with former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott (left). Source: Twitter

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel reportedly had officials look into building an asylum seeker processing centre on a remote island more than 6000 kilometres from the UK, as they considered how Australia and other countries handled asylum seeker arrivals.

A Financial Times report on Wednesday suggested Ms Patel's consideration of offshore processing reflected the influence of Australia's former prime minister Tony Abbott, who was recently appointed a trade adviser to Britain.

But the UK home secretary now appears to have abandoned the idea to send migrants to Ascension Island or St Helena, both in the South Atlantic, after an assessment of the practicalities of moving people, according to the Financial Times report.

"The home secretary would not want something like this," one ally of Ms Patel told the Financial Times, while another source confirmed they had been looking at how other countries had been dealing with the issue.

Australia's controversial use of offshore processing, which resumed in 2012, has attracted criticism as "an affront to the protection of human rights"

Under Mr Abbott's leadership, the Australian government took a harder line approach on boat arrivals, with the "Operation Sovereign Borders" approach including boat turnbacks, offshore detention and processing, and a no boat arrival resettlement in Australia policy.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) earlier this year found offshore processing conditions may constitute a breach of international law but there is not enough evidence to prosecute the federal government over it.

A report from Human Rights Watch, released in January, was also critical of Australia's asylum seeker and refugee policies, saying medical facilities in Papua New Guinea and Nauru were not dealing properly with the complex health needs of those in offshore detention

The report said at least 12 refugees and asylum seekers had died in Australia’s offshore processing system since 2013, six of them due to suicide.

However, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has argued the approach deters people smugglers from targeting vulnerable asylum seekers, and many of those who are sent to offshore detention are being resettled through third-country deals.

In the UK, the reported consideration of offshore processing comes after nearly 1500 migrants and asylum seekers arrived in Britain by small boats in August, according to an analysis by the Press Association. 

It was believed to be a record for a single month and is almost as much as the numbers in June and July combined.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's spokesman in early September said the spike in crossings was "unacceptable" and blamed criminal gangs for exploiting the desperate and vulnerable for money.

Additional reporting by AFP.


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Published 30 September 2020 at 10:32am, updated 30 September 2020 at 10:47am
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