Idea of sending asylum seekers to Ascension Island ‘logistical nightmare’


A proposal discussed in the Home Office that asylum seekers could be processed on Ascension Island has come as a shock to inhabitants on the volcanic territory 4,000 miles from the UK.

The idea considered within Priti Patel's department that asylum seekers could be transferred to the British overseas territory in the South Atlantic has been derided as "inhumane" by critics at home.

But it was also dismissed on Wednesday as an unfeasible, "logistical nightmare" by a member of the Ascension Island Council, Alan Nicholls.

He said he had only found out about the possibility when contacted by journalists and worried that security concerns from the presence of two military bases on the island could make it "prohibitive".

"Looking at cost and logistics, we are some 4,000-plus miles away from the UK, I would have thought it would be extremely expensive and a bit of a logistical nightmare to get asylum seekers here to Ascension because of the fact we are very isolated and I don't think the whole thing would be very feasible, to be quite truthful," Mr Nicholls told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

He also spoke of concerns among the local population of moving migrants there during the coronavirus pandemic.

"There could be quite an influx of individuals and at this state and time with pandemic lockdowns and everything else, I don't think that anybody would be very receptive to that," the councillor said.

The Financial Times reported that the Home Secretary had ordered officials to explore plans to build an asylum processing centre on the island.

But a Home Office source attempted to play it down, saying Ms Patel had asked staff to explore how other nations process claims, with Australia keeping asylum seekers in detention facilities on overseas islands.

The source said the Foreign Office was consulted, with Ascension and St Helena, which is in the same island group, being proposed before being dismissed as too far away.

Ascension Island, which is used as a staging post to supply and defend the Falkland Islands, has an RAF base and population of fewer than 1,000.

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: "This ludicrous idea is inhumane, completely impractical and wildly expensive. So it seems entirely plausible this Tory Government came up with it."

The SNP's immigration spokesman at Westminster, Stuart McDonald, said the Government's treatment of migrants and asylum seekers was "utterly toxic and inhumane".

Ms Patel has vowed to stop migrants making the perilous journey across the English Channel in small boats amid record numbers of crossings.

The proposal further reflects the influence of Australia – which has controversially used offshore processing and detention centres for asylum seekers since the 1980s – on the UK's immigration and asylum policy.

The Government has based its post-Brexit points-based immigration system on that developed in Australia.

Ms Patel recently met with former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott, known for his tough stance on immigration, who was appointed by Boris Johnson as a trade adviser to the UK.

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