Ascension Island: where is the British outpost where Priti Patel reportedly wanted to process asylum seekers

Downing Street are reportedly still looking into the use of offshore asylum seeker processing centres

Wednesday, 30th September 2020, 3:59 pm
Updated Thursday, 1st October 2020, 9:48 am
The Financial Times found that Home Secretary Priti Patel wanted to use Ascension Island as a location for an Asylum seeker processing centre (Getty Images)
The Financial Times found that Home Secretary Priti Patel wanted to use Ascension Island as a location for an Asylum seeker processing centre (Getty Images)

Home Secretary Priti Patel explored the use of a south Atlantic island as a site for an Asylum seeker processing centre, according to a report.

Home Office officials were ordered to look at the feasibility of transferring asylum seekers to Ascension, according to the report in the Financial Times.

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The Home Office have also considered housing asylum seekers on disused oil platforms and ferries, as well as Moldova, Morocco and Papua New Guinea. Downing Street are reportedly in favour of the plans and wants to follow a similar plan to Australia where asylum seekers are processed on Pacific islands. Australia have been processing asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea and Nauru for eight years in which time at least 12 have died.

The Foreign Office was consulted on the proposals, according to the paper, and provided an assessment on the practicalities of shipping migrants to such remote locations.

The Home Office have not denied the existence of the idea, though Ms Patel has apparently decided against pursuing the scheme.

Where is Ascension Island?

Ascension is a remote, volcanic island located in the south Atlantic Ocean.

Claimed by Great Britain in 1815, the outpost is located roughly 4,000 miles from the UK and 1,000 miles from its nearest continent, Africa.

The island is governed as part of the British Overseas Territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, with Saint Helena situated a further 800 miles to the southeast.

Today the island is the site of an RAF base and a European Space Agency tracking station.

According to the latest census, 806 people live on the island, many of whom reside in the capital Georgetown.

They’re kept company by 130,000 Atlantic sooty terns who use the island as a breeding ground.

The island is also home to one school and a branch of the Bank of St Helena.

A monthly chartered flight operated by SA AirLink runs to the island.

Reaction to asylum seeker processing centre plans

The proposed scheme has been met with outcry.

Labour condemned the scheme as “inhumane, completely impractical and wildly expensive”.

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

“The fact that the UK Government even considered shipping refugees thousands of miles to remote volcanic islands in the south Atlantic, like some sort of modern day penal colony, brings shame on the UK and typifies Westminster’s hostile approach to migrants and asylum seekers,” he said.

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.