By Lawrence Wilde
There was shock around the political and legal spheres when news broke in The Financial Times of plans contemplated by Downing Street to send migrants to Ascension Island as part of the new immigration policy that the UK is trying to draw up as we head out of the EU. The suggestion of Ascension Island draws frightening parallels to the policy currently in force in Australia. One aspect of the Australian system is the detention of asylum seekers in offshore facilities in countries such as Papua New Guinea and Nauru. This is a policy that, since its inception in 2013, has come under heavy criticism both abroad and also through challenges in the Australian courts.
Even though this seems like a particularly dark turn in the latest episode of the UK governments attempts to re-shape immigration laws, we should not be shocked as the Conservative Party have long had an obsession with the Australian Immigration system. The points-based immigration plan passed through the Commons in May and it was the start of the legislation aimed at repealing EU freedom of movement. The points-based system consists of a salary threshold that migrants will have to meet and therefore, speaks volumes to the way that government values migrants who work in our essential services only when it suits them. Furthermore, leaks now suggest that migrants could be sent offshore is another step towards a much harsher system and one that seems to treat Immigrants and Asylum seekers with the up-most contempt.
Even with the government’s immigration bill being defeated in the Lords, the bill Is still likely to pass un-amended owing to the governments 80 majority in the Commons. One of those defeats came as the Lords backed the ‘Dubs Amendment’ for a second time which aims to protect unaccompanied child refugees by reuniting them with relatives in the UK. The reluctance for the government to back this amendment draws parallels with the sustained criticism received by the Australians whose offshore detention policy includes unaccompanied children. If the ‘Dubs Amendment’ isn’t backed when the bill returns to the Commons, then the UK risks creating an unjust system.
There is little doubt that UK immigration will require reform as we leave the EU but the current sustained interest with the Australian system is a dangerous path for us to go down. Replicating the unfair points system and offshore detention centres is not where the UK should be heading. Far from being a system that values the workers that keep our country running, current proposals set arbitrary salary conditions and fails to provide adequate protections for refugees.
If the leak is proved to be true and migrants will be moved to offshore centres, we risk deterring and excluding migrants coming to run our essential services and creating an Immigration and asylum system infamous not for its compassion but for its hostility.
Currently studying LLM International Human Rights Law at the University of Leeds.