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Migrants are intercepted by Border Force officials after crossing the English Channel.

British Border Force officials guide newly arrived migrants to a holding facility after being picked up in a dinghy in the English Channel on June 24, 2021. (Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

UK Weighs 'Shockingly Cruel' Plan to Detain Refugees in Offshore Holding Centers

"This move would be extremely damaging and will give a green light to other countries to also shirk their responsibility," said Amnesty International.

Julia Conley

European officials and human rights groups warned the United Kingdom's right-wing government is on the brink of violating the Geneva Conventions if it follows through with a plan to open an offshore hub where refugees will be sent if they attempt to enter the country.

Home Secretary Priti Patel plans to introduce the Nationality and Borders Bill next week, seeking to enable the government to send asylum-seekers to an offshore location in Africa for "processing." 

"The U.K. receives very few people seeking asylum and yet the government continues this utterly reckless discussion about finding another country to carry out its responsibilities."
—Tom Davies, Amnesty International U.K.

The Home Office is reportedly in talks with Danish officials regarding possibly sharing a processing center, following the passage of a similar law in Denmark this month. 

Ylva Johansson, the European commissioner for home affairs, said in a statement after Denmark passed its law that "a system aiming for external processes outside the EU instead of protecting the right to apply for asylum in the EU would send a strong and wrong signal to the outer world."

The planned British legislation is designed as a deterrent for refugees who try to travel to the U.K., according to, and will involve deporting people who enter Britain "without the right paperwork to the European countries through which they travelled."

Amnesty International U.K. called Patel's planned legislation an "unworkable" attempt to avoid the country's duty to refugees under international law and a "shockingly cruel approach to people seeking asylum."

"The U.K. receives very few people seeking asylum and yet the government continues this utterly reckless discussion about finding another country to carry out its responsibilities," said Tom Davies, the organization's refugees campaign manager. "If true, this move would be extremely damaging and will give a green light to other countries to also shirk their responsibility."

The non-profit advocacy group Refugee Council called the offshore processing scheme "an act of cruel and brutal hostility towards vulnerable people."

"Through no fault of their own [they] have had to flee war, oppression and terror," said the group, which supports thousands of refugees in the U.K. each year with legal advice, mental health counseling, and integration into their new communities. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government has decried the country's so-called refugee "crisis," despite receiving far fewer asylum applications than other European countries like France and Germany, and being home to only about 1% of the world's refugees. Johnson is reportedly supportive of Patel's plan after about 5,600 asylum-seekers crossed the English Channel so far this year. 

In February, journalist Andrew Connelly wrote at Foreign Policy that Patel and Johnson have sought to "create" a refugee crisis in the absence of an actual problem, for the benefit of the right-wing press and government.

"Faced with a modest trickle of rickety boats washing up on British shores in the months before Brexit and since, Britain's government has begun to stoke an ugly culture war by linking asylum with danger and chaos," Connelly wrote. "For a country that seeks to rebrand itself post-Brexit as an outward-looking champion of the rules-based international order, and a prime minister who seeks to distance himself from the recently unseated U.S. president and his xenophobia, it is a parochial and authoritarian turn."

Amnesty International U.K. on Tuesday demanded British officials stop Patel's plan from coming to fruition and ensure the country meets its obligations to receive refugees. 

"Ministers must put an end to this and instead commit to ensuring that people who seek asylum in this country are properly supported, and their claims dealt with fully, fairly and efficiently," said Davies. 

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