UK plan to 'offshore' its 'migrant problem' stoops to a shameful new low

UK plan to 'offshore' its 'migrant problem' stoops to a shameful new low
Comment: The UK appears to be taking lessons from Australia in mistreating migrants, with the idea of an offshore asylum processing centre on Ascension Island, writes Malia Bouattia.
5 min read
09 Oct, 2020
Priti Patel instructed officials to explore the idea of asylum processing on Ascension Island [Getty]
The Tory government always likes to do what it can to "offshore" its problems, especially when it comes to immigration.

Most recently, The Financial Times reported that the Home Secretary Priti Patel, was looking to ship asylum seekers off to Ascension Island in the South Atlantic Ocean, more than 4,000 miles away.  

As if it isn't bad enough that countless refugees are chained and flown back to "where they came from" in surprise deportations, that they are imprisoned in detention centres, hunted - and drowned - at sea, and now even gathered like cattle in unliveable army barracks, the Home Office is trying to make sure that they are not seen or heard on UK soil as their asylum claims are processed.

The government's far-fetched new scheme met some backlash, including from the island itself where a member of the Ascension Island council, Alan Nicholls stated that locals would not be happy with the decision. He explained that it would be a "logistical nightmare". Although, logistics is not the nightmare that we should be most concerned about in this scenario.

While Patel's allies have insisted the idea won't happen, the very fact it is being officially assessed by The Foreign Office, is deeply disturbing.

Some of the other possibilities that the Home Office has entertained include converting decommissioned oil platforms and old ferries into processing centres. And as a way to stop the "problem" from even reaching British shores, the use of wave machines at sea to deter small boats was also a consideration. One Home Office source said that they were looking into "every option that can stop small boat crossings", actively increasing the danger of killing them at sea seems to be one of them. 

Internationalism, it turns out, is alive and well on Tory front benches, when it comes to racism and repression

This level of dehumanisation is truly unimaginable. 

Patel is apparently seeking international inspiration for her xenophobic campaigns, like the inhumane example of Australia which shipped its asylum seekers to the Pacific island nation of Nauru, and to Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

The militarisation of borders and the tactic of deterring migrants at sea are also notorious aspects of Australia's immigration system. A territory that was once used as a dumping ground for Britain to rid itself of convicts, political dissidents and the poor - while accelerating its accumulation of indigenous land - has perfected the art of racist anti-migrant practices. The teacher now learns from the student.

Instead of looking to other countries to learn from their best practices in strengthening public health services and putting in place adequate protection, or addressing the housing and unemployment crises made worse by the pandemic, it is the ill treatment of migrants that our government is most concerned with.

Internationalism, it turns out, is alive and well on Tory front benches, when it comes to racism and repression.

One can only imagine the vast amount of money and effort deployed to research and later implement some of these horrendous plans. But the Tories' budget for criminalising, excluding and even endangering migrants' lives seems bottomless. They are prepared for anything, as long as it reinforces their ever-so-shaky rule, and switches attention away from their political and economic record.

Read more: Australia reopens Christmas Island detention centre: A callous political stunt

Their decision to focus, or rather obsess, over the small boats crossing the Channel is not a coincidence. Refugee Action pointed out that in fact
asylum claims have been down from 84,000 in 2002 to 35,566 in 2019. Instead of using their resources and power to provide safe passage, adequately house and support refugees, they would rather inflict further violence upon them and strengthen the demonisation of those seeking asylum in the UK.

Furthermore, the UK's role in creating suffering and instability abroad is no secret. The list is extensive: from a long history of colonialism, supporting imperialist wars, and arming dictatorships, to facilitating the exploitation of workers in the Global South and participating in causing the ever-growing climate disaster that is destroying entire communities, lands and livelihoods.

The country continues to have a hand in creating "problems" that force many people to be displaced and flee their homes. None of this, of course, is acknowledged or even considered.

When Patel announced at the Conservative Party conference that we have a 'fundamentally broken' asylum system, she wasn't wrong. It's dangerous, violent, and oppressive

In addition to criminalising refugees, the government is also launching new attacks against human rights lawyers. The Home Secretary, who is not afraid of bitter irony herself, accused these professionals of "defending the broken system - the traffickers, the do-gooders, the lefty lawyers, the Labour party - they are defending the indefensible."

This government is ruthless. Whipping up xenophobic hysteria in order to divide workers and the poor continues to be the Tories' oldest trick in the book - and it must be tackled with all our energy.

When Patel announced at the Conservative party conference that we have a "fundamentally broken" asylum system, she wasn't wrong. It is dangerous, violent, and oppressive, if not downright murderous. Unfortunately, the government has no interest in fixing it. It won't address the crisis. It won't dismantle its structural roots. Instead, they will simply aim to discard the collateral damage of their broken system, out of sight. 

Malia Bouattia is an activist, a former president of the National Union of Students, and co-founder of the Students not Suspects/Educators not Informants Network.

Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.