The UK is trying to establish offshore hubs to process illegal immigrants who arrived in small boats across the English Channel, Deputy Prime Minister, Justice Secretary Dominic Raab confirmed on Thursday.
It follows reports that Albania has been approached as a potential destination for offshore processing, although the country’s minister for Europe and foreign affairs, Olta Xhaçka, said on Twitter it was “fake news.”
Raab told Times Radio on Thursday that the UK is exploring the route as a deterrent to channel crossings, without mentioning specific countries.
“We are looking at international partnerships that can take the processing out of the UK in order to try and reduce the pull factor which means people think they can successfully take advantage of these routes,” Raab said.
Speaking to LBC Radio, Raab said the UK has “looked at the Australian experience,” and “been talking with the Danes about this.”
“We want to make sure the processing, if it’s possible—and that will depend on the good will and co-operation of partners—can be done elsewhere,” he said.
Asked if this will include Albania and Rwanda, Raab said: “Let me avoid talking about individual countries but just say, with international partners this is something we’re probing. Because we want to test the idea, because we will do everything we can to resolve this problem.”
Downing Street also said that the ministers “want to keep all options on the table.”
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the UK had been in talks with a “number of countries,” but declined to “get into speculation about ongoing discussions with individually named countries.”
A Home Office spokesperson said “it is vital we do everything we can” to prevent migrants from embarking on the perilous journey and “break the business model of the criminal gangs exploiting people.”
“People should claim asylum in the first safe country they arrive in,” the spokesperson said, adding it’s important to “have a maritime deterrent in the channel and work with international partners” to stop the crossings.
On Wednesday, MPs in the Commons Home Affairs Committee heard that more than 23,000 illegal immigrants succeeded in crossing the channel this year, and the overall number of asylum seekers in the year ending June 2021 was 31,115.
It’s unclear how many souls were lost at sea, but the channel crossing has become very lucrative for smugglers, partly because of travel restrictions during the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic.
The MPs heard that with each immigrant paying around 4,000 euros (£3,380, $4,530), a boat carrying 88 people two weeks ago would have about 350,000 euros (£296,000, $396,500) on it.
Removing illegal immigrants has also been proven difficult as the UK currently doesn’t have agreements with the European Union or most European countries regarding the return of illegal immigrants.
Only five small boat arrivals have been sent back to Europe this year, Tom Pursglove, a minister for both the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice, told the committee.
According to new immigration rules (pdf), asylum claims are inadmissible if the person claiming asylum has been granted or has applied for asylum in a safe third country, or has passed through or has a connection in a safe third country, and therefore can get protection from that country.
But if the applicants are not removed from the UK within six months, their applications can then be heard in the UK.
Pursglove confirmed that 4,561 people have been served with notices of intent in terms of inadmissibility in the first 6 months of 2021, but according to charity the Refugee Council (pdf), only seven have been deemed inadmissible by September, and none had been transferred to another country.
Asked about the cost of offshore provisions and inadmissibility provisions, Pursglove said the economic impact assessment of the new Nationality and Borders Bill “will be
published in due course.”
According to Pursglove, the top five nationalities that arrived in the UK in 2019 are the Iranians (29 percent), the Iraqis (18 percent), the Syrians (9 percent), the Eritreans (7 percent), and the Sudanese (8 percent). There has been an increase in Albanian small boats arriving, which the government is still “seeking to quantify.”
The minister told MPs that the UK has managed to negotiate a returns agreement with Albania. He also said there is not necessarily a link between nationality and a claim for asylum being granted, citing the example of claims by Iraqi nationals in 2019 and 2020, the majority of which he said were refused.
PA contributed to this report.