Home Secretary Priti Patel has been asking officials to scope out the possibilities of detaining asylum seekers on remote Atlantic islands or in disused ferries, and building physical barriers in the Channel.
In Australia, where she borrows the “remote-islands” idea from, deterring asylum seekers and enforcing border controls have been election-winning positions for the conservatives.
In the first decade of the 21st century immigration detention in harsh remote locations within Australian territory through the first decade of this century produced points at which refugee supporters could meet with asylum seekers, and hold solidarity protests. In 2008 the Rudd Labor government responded by limiting the use of immigration detention, and allowing asylum seekers access to legal assistance.
With hopes raised by the new Australian policy, desperate asylum seekers boarded boats, and an estimated 1,200 drowned en route up to 2013.
When Kevin Rudd regained the Prime Ministership from Julia Gillard in 2013, he made a doomed bid for Labor to win the looming election by combining offshore processing with a policy that those found to be refugees could never come to Australia. That policy has been kept by successive conservative PMs.
Australia has since sent 3,127 people seeking asylum to detention on the islands of Manus and the Republic of Nauru.
Governments argue that allowing asylum seekers to arrive in Australia will cause more drownings, and open a floodgate of need that will put unfair costs on those Australians who are already struggling for livelihoods. But the cost argument is a distraction.
The Auditor General found in May 2020 that the Government had spent $7.1 billion on detaining and processing asylum seekers in Nauru and Papua New Guinea. Private contractors have profited. The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre found in 2019 that the Government spends in excess of $573,000 per offshore person, per year. And New Zealand’s offer to resettle refugees has been refused by the Australian Government.
The government claims that offshore processing is a humane alternative, but the detainees suffer from physical and psychological damage, with minimal productive or meaningful activity, indefinite detention, poor sanitation and diets, and severely inadequate health treatment, mainly involving the issuing of pain relief and sedatives.
Over 1,000 people have been medically evacuated to Australia because of the lack of medical treatment on Manus and Nauru. Children on Nauru have become catatonic with distress, and there have been suicides and suicide attempts on both islands.
The daily routines of degradation and domination on Manus are vividly depicted in a book by Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani, who was held on Manus until 2020. In No Friend But the Mountains, he calls the detention administration and culture the Kyriarchal System, stripping detainees of humanity and dignity.