UN condemns UK plans for offshore asylum seeker processing

Ministers accused of shifting responsibilities to poorer countries

DOVER, ENGLAND - JUNE 24: Border Force officials guide newly arrived migrants to a holding facility after being picked up in a dinghy in the English Channel on June 24, 2021 in Dover, England. More than 5,000 migrants have arrived this year by crossing the English Channel in boats. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

The UN has condemned Britain’s plans to send migrants to offshore immigration centres to deter new arrivals.

The criticism comes as Home Secretary Priti Patel prepares to introduce legislation next month that makes it possible for asylum claims to be processed outside the UK.

Ministers were on Monday reported to be in talks with Denmark about setting up a new processing centre in Africa.

Rwanda has emerged as a likely candidate after a visit by the country’s immigration minister.

But the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) accused the UK government of dumping its responsibilities on the world’s poorest countries.

"We see this kind of initiative as burden shifting rather than responsibility sharing. The international refugee support system is predicated on co-operation and without that it basically breaks down," UNHCR spokesman Matthew Saltmarsh told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

“But the UK it seems is reportedly planning to offshore its asylum support to a much less well-resourced African country.”

The government has previously mooted offshore reception centres on several occasions.

Ms Patel was reportedly keen on establishing a processing centre on Ascension Island, a remote British overseas territory in the South Atlantic.

Gibraltar was also rumoured to be a possible location for another centre.

Officials from both Ascension Island and Gibraltar denied they had been approached by the government.

The main goal of the government’s proposed legislation is to deport migrants who arrive in Britain after passing through European countries.

Ms Patel said migrants should be returned to the "first safe country" they pass through, but the UK has not struck a deal with the EU to allow this to happen.

The number of people arriving in small boats from northern Europe this year exceeded 5,000 this month, and continues to rise.