Harebrained Ideas Government Sources Have Briefed On Migrant Crossings

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HuffPost UK runs you through the briefings that have been attributed to government sources (Photo: HuffPost UK)
HuffPost UK runs you through the briefings that have been attributed to government sources (Photo: HuffPost UK)

Last week newspapers reported that government sources were blaming France for letting migrants cross the Channel as a “punishment for Brexit”.

This week we are told the UK might house more migrants in army barracks as a deterrent.

Rarely a week goes by in Westminster when there is not a story about who is to blame or how this government will stop people making the perilous journey.

Measures range from sending migrants to be processed on remote territories to wave machines in the Channel.

While some media hail the ideas as an “anti-migrant armada”, little seems to have changed with migrants continuing to cross in record numbers.

The number landing in small boats this year has hit the 25,000 mark - triple last year’s figure.

Home secretary Priti Patel is now under increasing pressure from her own party to stop the dinghy crossings and the prime minister has ordered a cross-government review into the crisis led by minister Steve Barclay.

Labour has labelled Patel “incompetent” and the Sun reports that she is “battling to stay in her job”. Meanwhile, the FT reports Tory fears of the creation of a new right-wing political party in response to the issue.

However, some commentators argue the issue is being amplified in a bid to distract from the sleaze allegations engulfing the government.

What is inescapable is that people are risking their lives to travel across the world’s busiest shipping lane.

Below, HuffPost UK talks you through all the ideas that have emerged under Boris Johnson’s government.

Such radical proposals are not necessarily new ideas among the Conservative Party - with similar schemes being floated in the past.

When he was shadow home secretary 18 years ago, Sir Oliver Letwin said asylum-seekers could be automatically deported to a foreign island “far, far away” for processing. The idea collapsed when admitted he did not have the “slightest idea” where that island would be.

Wave Machines

One of the most extraordinary ideas that has been reported by the press was that of so-called “wave machines” in the Channel.

The home office reportedly “considered” using boats with pumps that could generate waves during “blue sky thinking” conversations about how to deal with the crossings.

However, issues were raised over the risk of tipping over people in packed and dangerous boats.

Other ideas included creating a chain of small boats to form a barrier and laying down a boom to stop dinghies making it to the UK.

Retired Ferries

Another idea mooted in Whitehall is said to be processing migrants on disused ferries moored off the coast.

According to reports last year, the government was considering buying retired ferries and converting them into asylum-processing centres.

A disused 40-year-old ferry can be bought from Italy for £6 million and could house 1,400 people in 141 cabins, according to The Times. Meanwhile, a disused cruise ship could cost £116 million and accommodate 2,417 people in 1,000 cabins.

Disused Oil Platforms

The home office reportedly also held discussions about moving migrants to decommissioned oil platforms in the North Sea for processing.

The idea was apparently discussed at a Whitehall brainstorming session but ministers decided that it was a “no go”.

Although, The Times said a plan to move them to ships was thought to be “more realistic”.

Army Barracks

More asylum seekers could be housed in army barracks rather than hotels in a bid to deter migrants from crossing the Channel, The Telegraph claimed this week.

The government’s new taskforce is apparently set to consider the plans and if migrants’ benefits could be cut.

Official figures show that around 8,700 migrants were accommodated in nearly 90 different hotels across the UK in February. Ministers will look at whether to house these migrants in more army barracks rather than hotels.

Currently Napier barracks in Kent are used to accommodate migrants.

Ascension and St Helena

At one point Downing Street reportedly asked officials to consider sending asylum seekers to the south Atlantic islands of Ascension and St Helena, which are overseas British territories.

Concerns were raised about the sheer complexity of such an initiative - which would incur huge costs and legal ramifications. Ministers apparently went on to dismiss the ideas as unrealistic.

Downing Street also reportedly instructed foreign office officials to look into building detention centres to process asylum seekers in Moldova, Morocco or Papua New Guinea but they were also rejected.

Gibraltar and the Isle of Man

Gibraltar, a British overseas territory, and the Isle of Man, a Crown dependency, have also been discussed by officials.

However, their political leaders angrily torpedoed the idea earlier this year and demanded reassurances from Patel they would not be used as processing centres.

Gibraltar’s chief minister Fabian Picardo described it as “groundless speculation” while the chief minister of the Isle of Man Howard Quayle said he thought Patel might have been playing an early April Fools’ Day joke on them.

Armoured Jet Skis

Patel has apparently ordered civil servants to intercept migrants in the Channel using jet skis, according to The Sun.

Plans seen by paper show border force officers will try to spin boats back towards France using high-powered, armoured “personal water craft”.

However, former Navy chief Admiral Lord West said it would be dangerous. He said it was an “accident waiting to happen” and would be “problematic”.

Scottish Islands

The Times reported in October last year that there had been discussions about processing migrants on an island off the coast of Scotland

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon was furious over the idea, describing it as treating humans “like cattle in a holding pen”.

She tweeted: “They can rest assured that any proposal to treat human beings like cattle in a holding pen will be met with the strongest possible opposition from me.”

Albania

The latest proposal apparently involves flying those who cross the Channel to Albania.

Reports claim that under the plan, arrivals on Britain’s beaches in small boats would be taken to the country within seven days for off-shore processing.

Government thinking is that a long wait for processing would act as deterrent against making the crossing.

However, Albania strenuously denied it was willing to process people with the prime minister Edi Rama saying he would “never receive refugees for richer countries”.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.

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