4 Reasons The Plan To Send Asylum Seekers To Ascension Island Was Absolutely Ridiculous

Home secretary Priti Patel's proposal for a processing centre in the south Atlantic Ocean has been likened to creating a "modern day penal colony".

The state of 2020 means it now takes a *lot* for us to find a news story shocking.

But Priti Patel has delivered. On Wednesday, the Financial Times revealed that the home secretary had previously ordered officials to explore plans for building an asylum processing centre on Ascension Island.

Home Office officials were instructed to look into the feasibility of transferring asylum seekers arriving in the UK to a centre on the remote volcanic island in the south Atlantic.

If you’re not already reeling at the state of this proposal – which was unsurprisingly dropped – here are four facts to help you understand how properly absurd it was.

Most importantly – refugee charities have called the idea “immoral and inhumane”

Before you even consider the ridiculous logistics of a plan to send refugees halfway around the world for processing, it’s important to know that refugee charities have condemned the idea as “immoral and inhumane”.

Stephen Hale, chief executive of Refugee Action, said it was “deeply troubling” that Patel even considered such a plan.

“Our asylum system is descending into chaos,” he said. “The government must stop its unconscionable race to the bottom and work sensibly towards creating a fair and effective asylum system based on humanity, compassion and the rule of law.”

Meanwhile, Refugee Council policy manager Judith Dennis said the UK must treat refugees and asylum seekers with “dignity”.

“The government should be doing all it can to ensure the UK asylum system is fair and effective. not considering proposals that would be hugely costly and would not solve the backlog of applications.”

Reactions from charities came as Stuart McDonald, the Scottish National Party’s spokesperson for immigration, called the plan “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.

Ascension Island is 4,000 miles from the UK

Ascension Island is 1,000 miles off the coast of Africa
Ascension Island is 1,000 miles off the coast of Africa
Google Maps

Never heard of Ascension Island before today? You’re probably not alone (no offence to anyone from the island who is reading this...)

The isolated volcanic island is located in the south Atlantic Ocean – around 4,000 miles from the UK. Yes, you read that correctly – 4,000 miles.

If numbers aren’t your thing, you just need to know that Ascension Island is roughly 1,000 miles off the coast of Africa and 1,400 miles from the coast of Brazil.

In short – it’s absolutely nowhere near the UK, leading to the very obvious question – how the hell would an asylum processing centre thousands of miles away even work?

It’s pretty difficult to get to a tiny island in the middle of the Atlantic

Wind turbines on Ascension Island in South Atlantic Ocean with Wideawake Airfield in background
Wind turbines on Ascension Island in South Atlantic Ocean with Wideawake Airfield in background
StHelena via Getty Images

If the UK government was considering sending asylum seekers to an island thousands of miles away, there must at least be good transport links, right? Wrong.

A quick search on the Ascension Island government website reveals that only military and diplomatic flights are allowed to land on the island.

The one exception is domestic flights from the tiny island St Helena, which is 800 miles away. So if you wanted to get to Ascension Island from the UK, you would first have to take a long, convoluted series of flights to St Helena, before finally boarding a plane to Ascension Island.

The whole journey would probably take about two days – and is only possible on a very small number of days each month.

We’re not saying the might of the British government wouldn’t be able to overcome this issue. We’re just wondering how the proposal to build an asylum centre on an island that’s incredibly difficult to reach ever got any airtime.

Even if the UK used military transport to carry asylum seekers halfway around the world, the whole affair would likely be pretty pricey.

Ascension Island is only home to about 800 people

Two Boats Village and Sisters Peaks on Ascension Island South Atlantic Ocean
Two Boats Village and Sisters Peaks on Ascension Island South Atlantic Ocean
StHelena via Getty Images

According to the United Nationals High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), around 35,000 people applied for asylum in the UK in the year leading up to March 2020.

If the UK went ahead with plans to send asylum seekers to an overseas processing centre, it would need to choose somewhere with a significant and well-developed infrastructure that could support thousands of additional people each year.

Ascension Island... probably isn’t that place. As of 2016, the island, which is a British Overseas Territory, was home to about 800 people.

Without serious investment by the UK, it’s likely that the kind of asylum centre described in the Financial Times story would completely overwhelm the island’s current resources.

Alan Nicholls, a member of the Ascension Island Council, described the proposal as a “logistical nightmare”.

He told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme he had only found out about the possibility when contacted by journalists.

“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,” Nicholls said.

He also spoke of concerns among the locals on the island, with a population of less than 1,000, of forcing migrants there during the coronavirus pandemic.

“There could be quite an influx of individuals and at this state and time with pandemic lockdowns and everything else, I don’t think that anybody would be very receptive to that.”


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