24th Sep 2023

Remote Atlantic Ocean rock could host migrants, UK says

  • Ascension Island is thousands of kilometres away from Europe (Photo: Warren Evans)
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The UK is threatening to deport irregular migrants to Ascension Island if its plan to send people to Rwanda fails, amid another lethal shipwreck in the Mediterranean.

British officials briefed national press anonymously on the Ascension Island idea on Sunday (6 August).

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"It's pragmatic to consider all options and it makes sense to draw up proposals to stop the boats that could work alongside our Rwanda policy," a "senior government source" told The Sunday Times.

"We're still confident that our Rwanda scheme is lawful, but having alternative proposals on the table would provide us with a back-up if we're frustrated legally," the source said.

"All options were on the table", British home secretary Suella Braverman also told the Mail on Sunday.

Ascension Island is part of the Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha British overseas territory in the South Atlantic Ocean.

The volcanic outcrop is just 88 km squared and located 6,000 km away from Europe.

Braverman had planned to start deporting people to Rwanda on flights in January to act as a deterrent.

But this was ruled illegal by the Court of Appeal in June over deficiencies in Rwanda's asylum system, with a final verdict due by the Supreme Court in late autumn.

Other "Plan B" locations alongside Ascension Island included Alderney in the Channel islands, a British military base in Cyprus, Ghana, Nigeria, Namibia, and Morocco, the Sunday Times reported.

Niger had been on the list, but a coup in Niamey in July now threatened to see military intervention by neighbouring states, making the region a source of even higher numbers of refugees.

The Falkland Islands had also been considered, but were deemed too sensitive due to the 1982 Falklands War between Britain and Argentina.

And British officials cited Australia's policy of processing asylum claims on Nauru in the South Pacific as a model for their far-flung schemes.

The Rwanda Plan A has been pasted by human-rights groups as demonisation of vulnerable people by Britain's ruling Conservative Party, which trails in polls ahead of elections likely in 2024.

About 15,000 have crossed to the UK on small boats from France so far this year, down 15 percent on the same period in 2022.

But arrivals to Europe are on the rise, via dangerous Mediterranean crossings and Turkey.

Over 127,300 people came in the first seven months of this year compared to 189,600 in all of last year, according to the International Organisation for Migration, a UN limb.

More than 2,330 people lost their lives or went missing, compared to 2,965 in 2022.

Another woman and child died and 30 were still missing after two boats capsized near the Italian island of Lampedusa on Sunday, Italian authorities said.

The coastguard saved 57 people so far.

They also airlifted 34 others, including two pregnant women and a child, who had been clinging to a cliff face on Lampedusa since Friday following a previous shipwreck.

Unwelcoming mood

The right-wing government of Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni has been accused of complicating rescues by forcing charity ships to disembark at far-away ports, echoing the UK approach.

And migration is likely to feature heavily in the European Parliament elections next year, just as in post-Brexit Britain.

Germany's far-right AfD party declared the EU a "failed project" and promised to crack down on migrants in its programme for next June's vote, unveiled on Sunday.

It called for the EU to reform as a "federation of European nations" that protected "different identities" in Europe.

It also spoke of a "Europe of fatherlands, a European community of sovereign, democratic states".

The AfD is poles apart from the old German spirit under former conservative chancellor Angela Merkel, who welcomed refugees in 2015.

But the far-right party is now polling at 19 to 22 percent, making it the second strongest political force in the EU's largest member state.

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