Australian lawyer criticises Priti Patel for copying her country's 'cruel' immigration policy

Home Secretary Priti Patel arrives for a cabinet meeting in Downing Street. Photograph: Stefan Rouss

Home Secretary Priti Patel arrives for a cabinet meeting in Downing Street. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire. - Credit: PA

An Australian lawyer has slammed Priti Patel for appearing to copy her country's asylum seeker policy, adding that any "decent" country would not process refugees offshore.

Madeline Gleeson, a human rights lawyer, said the move to copy Australia's immigration policy was "deeply concerning" and warned Westminster MPs against following suit.

Gleeson's comment comes after leaked documents showed the government is considering sending illegal migrants to Ascension Island in the South Atlantic for processing in what would be sweeping changes to the UK's immigration system.

Another document revealed a secret consultation on building floating walls to block migrants from crossing the English Channel.

MORE: Priti Patel 'considered wave machines' to stop migrants crossing English Channel

So far this year, more than 7,755 migrants have crossed the Channel in small boats. The total number in 2019 was 1,892.


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Gleeson told the Commons Home Affairs committee that it was "deeply concerning" that any country would consider replicating what Australia has done.

She told MPs: "It wasn't effective in the policy goal that it was seeking to achieve and on top of that, the legal and humanitarian concerns should be cause for great pause, certainly for any state which is a signatory to international conventions – but more than that, any state that considers itself to be a democratic society based on respect for common decency really."

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Panellists were told that in the first year of Australia's new system, more people arrived by boat than at any other time.

Dubbed the "Pacific Solution", Australia's controversial policy to send asylum seekers who arrived by sea to Papua New Guinea for processing began in 2001. The policy has seen many iterations over the years with asylum seekers now being sent to offshore centres on Manus Island and Nauru.

Human rights groups have repeatedly expressed concerns over the conditions of the camps and the state of refugees' mental health.

In an article written for the Guardian Australia, Gleeson described her country's system as "cruel" and "inhuman" as well being ineffective as it encouraged more refugees to seek asylum in Australia in the first few months of the policy's reintroduction in 2012.

"News that the UK government may develop its own offshore system is alarming," she wrote. "Australia’s experience demonstrates that offshore processing breaks people, destroys lives and shatters the possibility of hope for the future."

She said the policy had seen thousands of refugees "medically evacuated" to Australia due to the dire conditions in most camps which she reckoned to be "worse than in war zones and refugee camps around the world".

Gleeson told the panel MPs: "The main point on offshore processing is that did not deter people from arriving in Australia by boat to seek asylum."

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