Government dismisses ‘groundless’ report that UK plans asylum centre in Gibraltar
The Gibraltar Government has dismissed as “groundless speculation” media reports that the UK Government was creating a migrant processing centre in Gibraltar.
An article in The Times, widely reported by other media too, said asylum seekers could be sent to processing centres abroad under plans by Home Secretary Priti Patel to overhaul the immigration system.
Gibraltar was one of the locations under consideration by officials, according to The Times, as well as the Isle of Man and other islands off the British coast.
But the Gibraltar Government, which has responsibility under Gibraltar’s constitution and Gibraltar law for immigration including asylum seekers, said there was no such proposal for the Rock.
Chief Minister Fabian Picardo wrote to Mrs Patel to explain the legal position and the complexities that arise from Gibraltar’s geographical position just miles from north Africa, from where many migrants attempt the treacherous trip across the Strait of Gibraltar to enter Europe clandestinely.
He highlighted too Gibraltar’s potential new fluidity arrangements with the Schengen area as additional reasons why Gibraltar would be unable to host any facility to process people seeking asylum in the UK.
“Gibraltar is always ready to help the United Kingdom as part of the British family of nations,” Mr Picardo said.
“We play an important part in defence and are ready to consider any other way we can work with the UK.”
“We have had magnificent help from the UK on the Covid-19 pandemic, from sovereign guarantees to vaccinations provided at no cost.”
“We will not ever shirk our responsibility to help where we can.”
“Our geography makes some things difficult, however, and the processing of asylum seekers to the UK in Gibraltar would be one of them.”
“Immigration is an area of my responsibility as Chief Minister under the Gibraltar Constitution and 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.”
“I have nonetheless wanted to emphasise to the Home Secretary that we stand ready to help in other areas.”
“I know she is a strong supporter of Gibraltar so I have proposed we should meet in London when travel restrictions are lifted.”
Mrs Patel has vowed to stop migrants making the perilous journey across the English Channel and is expected to publish details of plans overhauling the UK’s asylum and immigration system next week.
The Times said plans due to be set out by the Home Secretary will include a consultation on changing the law so that migrants seeking asylum can be sent to processing centres in third countries.
It follows a series of leaks last year suggesting the UK Government was considering a number of offshore policies akin to those used in Australia.
These included sending asylum seekers to Ascension Island, more than 4,000 miles from the UK, to be processed, and turning disused ferries out at sea into processing centres.
The ideas were dismissed by critics at the time as unfeasible, while Labour condemned the suggestion of an asylum processing centre on Ascension Island as “inhumane, completely impractical and wildly expensive”.
The UK Government believes sending migrants to third countries for processing would be compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), according to reports.
The Times said the new legislation will include life sentences for people smugglers and the establishment of migrant reception centres on government land, with many currently being housed in hotels.
Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council charity, condemned the proposed policy as “inhumane”.
He told the paper: “We know from the Australian model that offshore detention leads to appalling outcomes including high levels of self-harm and mental illness."
“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."
“As we mark the 70th anniversary of the UN convention on refugees later this year we should be welcoming refugees, treating them with compassion.”