Immigration centres on disused ferries, asylum processing centres in Papua New Guinea and a wave machine to push dinghies back to the French coast have all been considered by the Home Office to disrupt refugees attempting to enter the UK, according to several reports.
On Wednesday the government admitted it was searching for possible locations for asylum processing centres off the UK mainland after reportedly giving up on plans to base operations on Ascension Island - a volcanic landmass closer to Brazil than the UK.
On repeated questioning from reporters over whether ministers were still considering the plan, Boris Johnson’s official spokesman would say only that the UK was looking at systems which have been used elsewhere in the world.
His comments have fuelled suspicions that the UK may follow in the footsteps of Australia, where asylum seekers attempting to cross into the country were controversially held in detention centres on Nauru and Manus Islands in Papua New Guinea.
Now reports in The Times have suggested the south-west pacific island nation is among the locations to have been considered for a future asylum processing site, along with Moldova and Morocco.
Floating processing centres were also mooted, the paper added, with disused ferries held off the coast among the potential considerations put forward by Downing Street. Decommissioned oil platforms in the North Sea were also reportedly considered by the Home Office, before being ruled out for logistic and safety reasons.
Meanwhile The Financial Times reports “blue sky thinking” sessions led officials to suggest outside the box ideas including placing obstacles in the channel, linking boats to create a barricade and, according to one source, fitting vessels with pumps that could generate waves to force dinghies back into French waters were also considered.
The increasingly atypical ideas come after hundreds of refugees attempted to make the crossing from France to the UK on ill-suited rafts and dinghies - an increase in numbers the UN has since described as ‘paling in comparison’ to unauthorised crossings seen in other countries.
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds accused the party of presiding over an inhumane immigration policy, despite contrition from MPs over the hostile environment policy that had led to the Windrush Scandal.
He wrote on Twitter: “This is a vile example of how degraded an environment the Tories have created.
“The Windrush Review was damning about the inhumane culture they have created at the Home Office. They’ve learned nothing.”
Meanwhile Rossella Pagliuchi-Lor, the UK representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said the decision to send asylum seekers to far-flung islands would be a “very significant departure” for the UK.
“This is the Australian model and I think we have already seen that the Australian model has brought about incredible suffering on people who are guilty of no more than seeking asylum.”
Speaking to MPs, she added it was “extremely inappropriate in terms of the commitments that the country should have to human rights” and also “incredibly impractical and expensive”.
“I do hope the UK will not choose to go down this way”, she added.
However the policy has strong support among Conservative voters - and majority support in the public as a whole, according to a snap poll.
YouGov asked 2109 British adults if setting up an asylum processing centre on Ascension Island was “a good or bad idea?” - with some 40 per cent of all adults responding favourably, compared to 35 per cent who disapproved.
Among Tory voters that rose to 62 per cent in favour and 21 per cent opposed. Age was also a factor, with only 25 per cent of 18-24 year olds were in favour, compared to 51 per cent of the over 65s.