Inside Australia’s asylum system – a possible model for the UK

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Amid a fourfold rise in small boats attempting to cross the Channel and reach the UK this year, Downing Street and ministers have asked Foreign Office officials to consider a wide range of options to deter asylum seekers, according to leaked documents last month. Proposals include offshore asylum processing centres, with one document suggesting Boris Johnson is personally involved in the plan, stating: ‘In addition to the work on OT [British overseas territory] options, the PM has asked for FCDO advice on potential third-country locations. We are asked to suggest options for a UK scheme similar to the Australian agreement with Papua New Guinea.’

Guardian Australia reporter Ben Doherty tells Rachel Humphreys about the history of Australia’s immigration policies, beginning in 2001, after the Tampa crisis, when a Norwegian freighter that had rescued more than 400 mainly Afghan Hazara refugees from their sinking vessel in international waters 140km north of Christmas Island was refused entry into Australian waters. The MV Tampa provided the conservative Coalition government with a catalyst for action. That was the establishment of “offshore detention” camps on Nauru and on Papua New Guinea, the so-called Pacific solution. The detention facilities have been the subject of serious criticism by international observers and human rights groups. Journalist Behrouz Boochani, who fled Iran for Australia in 2013, was sent to Manus Island. He describes the detention centre as worse than a prison and warns the UK to think hard before they look to replicate the Australian system. “If you do this, you lose your humanity” he tells Rachel.

Asylum-seekers look through a fence at the Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea March 21, 2014. Faces pixellated at source. Picture taken March 21, 2014. Eoin Blackwell/AAP/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE. AUSTRALIA OUT. NEW ZEALAND OUT
 Photograph: Reuters
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