Nicola Sturgeon has slammed proposals to build an asylum processing centre in the Western Isles or Shetland, saying the Home Office idea would be “met with the strongest possible opposition” from Bute House.
Ministers are also said to be considering a plan to convert disused ferries and North Sea oil rigs into processing centres in a bid to deter migrants making dangerous crossings from France.
The most senior civil servant at the Home Office, Matthew Rycroft, told MPs that “everything is on the table” when it comes to “improving” the UK’s asylum system.
Labour called the proposal to process people on ferries “unconscionable”.
The first minister reacted with fury, posting on social media: “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.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel is expected to address the issue in a speech at the Conservative Party conference on Sunday.
Ms Patel is reported to have told Tory MPs that the asylum system is broken and has accused “leftie-supporting lawyers” of exploiting the system to keep migrants in the country.
Downing Street ‘developing plans to reform policies’
Asked about the reports, Downing Street said no decisions had been made over the location for a processing centre.
The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “We are developing plans to reform our policies around illegal migration and asylum to ensure that we’re able to provide protection to those who need it, while preventing abuse of the system and the criminality associated with it.
“That includes looking at what a whole host of other countries do, but the work’s ongoing.
“There have been lots of ideas reported and a significant number of them that I really don’t recognise.”
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. https://t.co/qhfxQMSRxG
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) October 1, 2020
Responding to Ms Sturgeon’s remarks, the spokesman added: “The UK does have a long and proud history of offering refuge to those who need protection and tens of thousands of people have rebuilt their lives in the UK and we will continue to provide safe and legal routes in the future.
“The Channel crossings have put into very sharp focus the issue of gangs facilitating people to make what are life-threatening, perilous journeys.
“We need to take action to address the issue of illegal migration, and to deal with a route, which is putting people in grave danger.”
According to Refugee Action, 35,566 asylum applications were made in the UK in 2019 – down from a peak of 84,000 in 2002.
The number of migrants crossing the Channel in small boats, however, has risen sharply. By the end of August 5,000 people had arrived, more than twice the number for the whole of 2019.