Gibraltar dismisses Priti Patel’s plans to process Channel migrants

Gibraltar and the Isle of Man today torpedoed claims they could be used by Priti Patel to house new processing centres for UK asylum seekers illegally arriving in the country by sea or in the back of lorries.

Political leaders have reacted angrily to the idea and demanded reassurance from the Home Secretary that migrants who enter Britain illegally will then be flown to them to be held in camps while their asylum applications are heard.

Ms Patel is looking for a radical solution after trafficking gangs helped a record 8,420 migrants crossed the Channel to Britain in 2020 – while more than 800 have crossed already this year.

But Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo has today written to the Home Secretary to confirm that the reports are ‘groundless speculation’ and to stress it would be unable to host the processing of asylum seekers due to constitutional and legal issues and the ‘geographical limitations’ of the territory.

He said: ‘I can confirm that this issue has not been raised with me at any level. I would have made clear this is not area on which we believe we can assist the UK’.

While the Chief Minister of the Isle of Man, Howard Quayle, told MailOnline he thought Ms Patel might have been playing an early April Fools’ Day joke on them.

He said: ‘I can confirm that at no time has the Isle of Man government been approached or advised about plans to use the Isle of Man for such a purpose. Along with ideas to build a road tunnel under the Irish Sea or a bridge above it this latest idea simply adds to the rich tapestry of life we are dealing with at present. April 1st isn’t until next month’.

The Queen is head of state of both Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory, and the Isle of Man, a British Crown dependency. Both have varying degrees of political independence, and while the UK Government could impose decisions on them, it would highly controversial if it did without consent from the Gibraltar Parliament or the Manx Tynwald.

Priti Patel plans to take a much tougher stance on unauthorised migration to stop people smugglers exploiting desperate migrants and putting their lives at risk. Those who come to Britain from a safe country such as France will have their claims deemed ‘inadmissible’.

The Home Secretary wants to change the law so they can then be sent to a third country such as Turkey to await being returned to their home nation or the safe country they arrived from. While Turkey is one option, there are others being considered closer to home.

According to The Times, islands off the coast of Scotland are under consideration, while the Isle of Man and Gibraltar have also been discussed by top officials.

Priti Patel plans to take a tougher stance on illegal migration in a bid to clampdown on people smugglers who exploit vulnerable people fleeing war-torn countries

Migrants who enter the UK illegally by crossing The Channel from France could be sent to a third country, such as Turkey, where they will either be returned to their home nation, or the safe country they arrived in Britain from. Pictured: Border Force officials taking a child refugee ashore in Kent

The Rock of the British overseas territory of Gibraltar, whose political leaders have ruled out housing a camp for migrants sent from the UK


Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo has today written to the Home Secretary to confirm that the reports are ‘groundless speculation’ while the Chief Minister of the Isle of Man, Howard Quayle, told MailOnline he thought Ms Patel might have been playing an early April Fools’ Day joke on them

 By David Barrett, Home Affairs Correspondent

What is the problem?

Many asylum seekers pass through safe countries such as France to reach the UK. Critics say this indicates many who claim to be refugees – and may have paid thousands of pounds to people traffickers – are actually economic migrants who take up space in the system that could be allocated to people whose lives are in peril.

How is the system failing?

Once asylum seekers reach the UK it can be very difficult for the Government to remove them, even if their claims for refugee status are groundless. The number of asylum seekers living in Britain at taxpayers’ expense reached a record 64,041 at the end of last year, costing £1 billion annually. The growing backlog is partly due to Home Office bureaucracy but also to the rising use of legal challenges. Britain made more than 8,500 requests to European countries last year, asking them to take back asylum seekers who had passed through a safe country. Only 105 were transferred out.

How many pass through a ‘safe country’ to Britain?

There are no official figures, but a rough estimate can be provided by looking at the numbers who came here on small boats from France, who should have claimed asylum there, according to EU rules. That figure was just over 8,500 in 2020, and there were just over 36,000 asylum applications last year, including dependants. So at least one in four arrivals came from a safe country.

What is the Government proposing?

Asylum seekers who have passed through a safe country on their way to the UK will have their claims ruled ‘inadmissible’. Ministers will aim to sign deals with countries outside Europe to accommodate asylum seekers who have reached Britain and are thought to have passed through a safe country. They would then be moved to those foreign-based centres while their claims are processed.

How does this compare with other countries?

The European Union has paid Turkey more than £5 billion since 2016 to accommodate four million migrants – mostly from war-ravaged Syria. The scheme was designed to prevent migrants continuing their journey to Europe. Australia brought in mandatory offshore processing centres in 2013 for anyone who arrives without a visa. Asylum seekers travelling by sea are redirected to accommodation centres in countries such as Papua New Guinea. The policy has led to allegations that Australia is neglecting its duties to genuine refugees.

Where could asylum seekers be held?

Ministers are understood to be negotiating with several countries outside Europe. Turkey is believed to be a front-runner.

Could the proposals face legal challenges?

Yes. They will be highly controversial. One focus will be how the UK could transfer asylum seekers to another country. Many destroy their passports before arriving here and try to keep their true nationality secret. In those circumstances it is not known how they could be relocated. The Home Office could be subject to challenges under international human rights or refugee conventions.

Speaking to The Times, the unnamed expert said: ‘There is no law that explicitly prevents people from being removed to a third country.

‘But it is arguable and there’s bound to be a court case about it — there’ll be arguments both ways. A refugee is going to not want to be removed to a third country and will no doubt instruct lawyers to try to prevent that. So they will bring a case to try to stop it happening.’

Officials have opened discussions with several non-EU countries about taking the migrants in return for money, similar to a controversial scheme operated by Australia.

Speaking of the Australian method, Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council charity, told the paper: ‘It is an inhumane policy that undermines our nation’s proud tradition of providing protection to people fleeing persecution and terror many of whom have gone on to work as doctors and nurses in the NHS.’

At the same time, ministers will create ‘legal safe routes’ for more refugees to come to the UK directly from war zones.

Asylum seekers crossing the Channel from France to the UK will be sent to a third country under radical plans drawn up by Priti Patel.

The Home Secretary is poised to publish a ‘fair but firm’ shake-up of Britain’s asylum system designed to end illegal Channel crossings.

Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds accused the Government of ‘lurching from one inhumane, ridiculous proposal to another’ over plans to process asylum seekers abroad.

He said: ‘The Tories are lurching from one inhumane, ridiculous proposal to another. Last year they were talking about creating waves in the English Channel to wash boats back and buying ferries and oil rigs to process asylum claims.

‘These absurd ideas show the Government has lost control and all sense of compassion. Ministers must act to reopen safe routes, as promised, and deliver the promised agreement with France.’

The British Red Cross has warned processing asylum seekers offshore will have ‘grave humanitarian consequences’ as it urged the Government to ‘open up safe and legal routes’ for those making a claim in the UK.

Chief executive Mike Adamson said: ‘Offshoring the UK’s asylum system will do nothing to address the reasons people take dangerous journeys in the first place and will almost certainly have grave humanitarian consequences’.

Last year set a new record for the highest number of migrant to cross The Channel, 8,420, while more than 800 have crossed already this year.

The plans, to be set out as part of the UK Sovereign Borders Bill, will establish new ‘legal safe routes’ allowing genuine refugees to secure the right to come to the UK directly from war zones.

But the proposals, which constitute the biggest shake-up of asylum laws in a generation, will also see Britain take a much tougher line on unauthorised immigration.

Migrants will be banned from claiming asylum in the UK if they have arrived from a safe country such as France, with their cases deemed ‘inadmissible’.

Miss Patel is working on plans to allow the swift return of ‘inadmissible’ migrants to the country where they came from.

But with EU countries dragging their heels in taking back failed asylum seekers, she is also drawing up proposals for them to have their cases dealt with in a third country, such as Turkey.

Migrants arriving in the UK via illegal routes would be removed to the third country and would remain there until they could be repatriated, either to their home nation or the safe country they arrived from – a process that could take months or years.

A Home Office source said the move was designed to ‘break the link’ between getting in a dinghy or lorry in France and securing a new life in the UK.

‘If people know that they are not going to get to stay in the UK then they are less likely to make that perilous journey,’ the source said.

‘People are dying – we have to break that link, which is what the people smugglers rely on. Yes, it will be controversial with some, but while we have people dying we have to consider everything.’

The Home Office was tight-lipped last night about exactly where ‘inadmissible’ asylum seekers might be sent, or how much countries will be paid to take them.

Last year ministers briefly considered sending asylum seekers to far-flung British dependencies, including St Helena and Ascension Island in the South Atlantic.

The remote islands were rejected as impractical. But the idea of sending asylum seekers offshore for processing has survived.

A similar scheme has been operated by Australia for years.

Asylum seekers travelling by sea have been banned from entering the country, and redirected to accommodation centres in neighbouring states such as Papua New Guinea.

The Pacific island was reportedly looked at by Foreign Office officials as a potential spot for detention centres, along with Moldova and Morocco, before plans were deemed unrealistic.

Refugees arriving in Britain from safe countries, like France, will have their asylum application deemed ‘inadmissible,’ under plans being looked at by the Home Secretary

British officials are understood to be in discussion with non-EU countries over plans for them to pay to take refugees, under a similar plan currently used by Australia. Pictured: Australia’s detention centre on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea

Turkey could be one of the countries Britain pays to host migrants, as it already has a deal in place with the EU. Pictured: Syrian children at a refugee camp in Sanliufra, Turkey

Any proposal for sending migrants to a third, holding country, like Turkey, (pictured, a site in Hatay) would be subject to a public consultation

A similar scheme has been operated by Australia for years. Asylum seekers travelling by sea have been banned from entering the country, and redirected to accommodation centres in neighbouring states such as Papua New Guinea (pictured)

Sources confirmed that several non-EU countries have been sounded out about the idea.

Turkey is thought to be a likely candidate as it already has a multi-billion-pound deal with the EU for hosting millions of migrants who might otherwise have made their way to Europe.

Britain is also in discussions with several EU countries, including Denmark, who are interested in ‘off-shoring’ their own asylum seekers to a third country.

Home Office sources stressed that the idea of sending asylum seekers abroad to be processed will be subject to consultation.

But the proposal is likely to prove highly controversial with human rights groups, and is certain to face legal challenges.

Although ministers considered pulling out of the 1951 Convention on Refugees they decided against the move. The UK will also remain a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Campaigners argue that international law does not require refugees to seek asylum in the first safe country they can reach. But Miss Patel has privately told colleagues she is determined to end the practice of ‘asylum shopping’, where people can travel through a string of safe countries before trying to make the journey across the Channel to the UK. ‘There is no justification for people travelling through safe countries like France in order to claim asylum in the UK,’ a source said.

‘They are not at risk from persecution in France, but they are putting their lives at risk if they try to cross the Channel illegally.’ The plans are due to be published later this month and will be included in the UK Sovereign Borders Bill in the summer.

The new measures will also include tougher enforcement action against the people smuggling gangs, including the introduction of life sentences for the worst offenders, up from a current maximum jail term of 14 years.

A separate review to be published today will recommend reforms to the judicial review process to curb the scope for repeated claims in immigration and asylum claims.

However, the plans are likely to take many months, or possibly years, to implement fully.

In the meantime, ministers are braced for the flow of migrants across the Channel to continue. And there are fears that the controversy surrounding the new plans could spark a surge from migrants desperate to get to the UK before the door is closed.

Internal Home Office projections seen by the Mail forecast that an average 500 migrants a month will successfully make the crossing this year.

The projection would suggest around 6,000 migrants are expected to make the crossing this year – lower than the record 8,417 last year, but far higher than the 1,890 in 2019.

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