Since Downing Street refused to deny suggestions that the government is looking at plans to ship asylum seekers to offshore locations to process their claims, the newspapers have been chock-full with leaks about what officials have been proposing. 

With plans ranging from floating asylum centres in old ferries to sending migrants more than 8,500 miles away to have their cases heard, some of the proposals seem more likely than others. 

On Thursday, Matthew Rycroft – the most senior civil servant in the Home Office – claimed the civil service had purely been answering ministers’ questions about how other countries deal with migration.

“We have been leaving no stone unturned in doing that,” he said. “We’ve been looking at what a whole host of other countries do in order to bring innovation into our own system. [But] no decisions have been taken.

“No final proposals have been put to ministers or to anyone else.”

He added: “This is in the realm of the brainstorming stage of a future policy and, I think as ministers have said in the House, everything is on the table, and so it should be at this stage of the policy-making process.” 

Rycroft refused to say which offshore proposals had been discussed. 

With that in mind, here are five proposals officials have reportedly floated that have been leaked to newspapers in recent days.

Creating floating asylum centres off the coast 

A generic photo of a ferry arriving at Calais. 

According to the The Times, one of the many plans being considered by Downing Street is to process the cases of people seeking asylum in the UK on disused ferries off the coast of the UK.

The government is considering buying retired ferries and converting them into floating asylum processing centres, the paper reported. 

It said that the Home Office had also held discussions about taking asylum seekers to decommissioned oil platforms in the North Sea – but that ministers had dismissed the suggestion as a “no-go”. 

Home secretary Priti Patel at a cabinet meeting in September

Pushing migrant boats back to French waters with boat pumps 

Asylum processing centres on ferries is apparently not the only plan involving boats that have been floated by officials. 

In a “blue-sky thinking” session about how to deal with the increasing number of people illegally crossing the Channel in dangerous conditions, the option of using boats with pumps to create waves that would force migrant boats back to French waters was discussed, the Financial Times revealed

While this was eventually considered too dangerous, with concerns raised that it could capsize boats carrying hundreds of vulnerable migrants, the possibility of linking small boats together to form a barrier to stop people being able to come ashore was also spoken about. 

Sending asylum seekers to Ascension Island – a  volcanic island 4,000 miles away 

Wind turbines on Ascension Island in South Atlantic Ocean with Wideawake Airfield in background

Before Wednesday, you may never have heard of Ascension Island.

But the Financial Times’ astounding scoop that Patel asked officials to explore building an asylum processing centre on the remote volcanic island – which is more than 4,000 miles away from the UK – means the name is probably imprinted on your brain now. 

According to the newspaper, Home Office officials were told to look into the feasibility of transferring asylum seekers arriving in the UK to a centre on the British overseas territory in the South Atlantic.

It is understood that Patel eventually scrapped the idea, which refugee charities slammed as “immoral and inhumane”. 

On Thursday, the Home Office’s top civil servant refused to confirm to MPs whether the idea was considered as a “serious suggestion”.

Matthew Roycroft told parliament’s Public Accounts Committee: “The civil service is here to give ministers impartial, fearless, honest, expert, independent advice and that is what we do. And the system works when we do that in private.”

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.”

Building asylum detention centres in Moldova, Morocco and Papua New Guinea 

Papua New Guinea is more than 8,500 miles away from the UK

According to The Guardian, it’s not just Ascension Island that has been considered as a possible location to send asylum seekers. 

The newspaper reported it had seen documents suggesting the government has been working on “detailed plans” calculating how feasible it would be to build asylum detention camps in Moldova, Morocco and Papua New Guinea. 

Like Ascension Island, all three of these locations are thousands of miles away from the UK.

Moldova is just under 2,000 miles away, Morocco is around 2,220 miles from the UK, and Papua New Guinea, which is off the coast of Australia, is more than 8,500 miles away. 

The documents reportedly outline how the government would relocate asylum seekers to these places after they had already arrived in the UK. 

But Tory backbencher Adam Holloway said that, while it was “completely right” for the Home Office to look at ways of deterring asylum seekers from coming to the UK, any solution should be “civilised”.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: “Talk of oil rigs and Moldova and Papua New Guinea, to me, is somewhat bizarre.

“The Home Office is completely right to look at other options so there is some sort of deterrent, but not the Australian model where you have poor welfare standards and everything else.

“We’ve got to find a civilised version of that.”

‘Migrant hostels’ on the Isle of Wight, Isle of Man or the Shetland Islands 

St. Catherines Lighthouse, Isle of Wight

There could be asylum processing centres closer to home, according to the Daily Mail

A government source told the newspaper that officials were looking into the possibility of “offshoring” migrants in centre in the Shetlands, the Isle of Wight and the Isle of Man. 

“There are also lots of little islands up by Scotland,” the source said. 

“This is all fairly down the track and it’s not going to be an overnight thing. It will also require changes to legislation. And if we were going to build anything at any of these places we would have to ensure there are appropriate services and provisions for asylum seekers who are sent there.” 

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon said that any proposal to “treat human beings like cattle in a holding pen” would be met “with the strongest possible opposition from me”. 

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