The Home Office is considering housing asylum seekers offshore while their applications are considered. Yesterday we heard that Ascension Island, thousands of miles away from the UK, was one option. Today we are told that other locations are under consideration and also, according to the BBC, that ministers might convert disused ferries moored off the coast to process people seeking asylum in the UK. It should be said that the boat idea is not a new one. It was tried briefly and unsuccessfully in the 1980s.
It is of huge concern that such plans are on potentially on the table again. Apparently, the Home Office is, also according to the BBC, looking at “every option that can stop small boat crossings and fix the asylum system”. The word deterrent comes up regularly in coverage and it seems that this is the focus rather than providing a fair asylum system for those fleeing persecution who arrive in the UK and seek to be recognised as refugees.
Many asylum seekers in the UK have made dangerous and long journeys, sometimes in the hands of people smugglers, to escape persecution in their home countries. They are often housed here in unsuitable accommodation and receive subsistence payments which are woefully inadequate. They currently wait many months for an initial decision on their asylum claim. We have clients who have waited as long as two years. After that, if their application is refused there is a further wait for an appeal hearing at which many applicants succeed in overturning the earlier Home Office decision refusing their asylum application.
Can the Home Office really think that the solution to the problems in the asylum system is to house asylum applicants, many of whom are victims of torture who have suffered imprisonment and mistreatment or are otherwise vulnerable, offshore, possibly thousands of miles away from the UK? It would doubtless make their ability to access support from lawyers, doctors, counsellors etc. difficult if not impossible. With current delays they might need to be accommodated, effectively detained, for years not only at great cost to the public purse but also with the potential for significant harm to their mental health and wellbeing and limits to their right to access legal advice.
If the Home Office wants to fix the asylum system in the UK it would be well advised to speed up and improve the quality of its decision-making and to stop dehumanising and bad-mouthing asylum seekers who have a right to seek asylum here under the Refugee Convention and to be treated fairly and respectfully whilst their claims are under consideration.