Government vows to provide refuge to most vulnerable in wake of asylum row

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The Government has pledged its commitment to “providing refuge for the most vulnerable” after facing criticism over a series of leaks on ideas of how to deal with asylum seekers.

On Friday the Home Office announced 28 asylum seekers were being brought to the UK from Greece so they could be reunited with family members in a bid to show its “ongoing global leadership in providing refuge for the most vulnerable”.

The department said the latest in a series of flights was “demonstrating that throughout the pandemic the UK has remained open and fully committed to family reunification”.

It came as ministers and officials faced a backlash over a string of reports on possible ideas for how to make changes to the asylum system, including processing those with claims on Ascension Island, some 4,000 miles from the UK, and placing them on disused ferries in the sea.

The latest claim is that the Government launched a secret consultation on building floating walls to block asylum seekers from crossing the English Channel, according to a leaked document.

The Home Office approached trade group Maritime UK to explore the idea of erecting temporary “marine fencing” to stop sea crossings, The Financial Times reported.

Migrants crossing the English Channel to the UK in 2020. (PA Graphics/PA)

The department’s permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft also declined to answer direct questions on whether disused ferries could be turned into processing centres.

Meanwhile, The Times reported that other proposals drawn up by the Home Office included the use of a water cannon to create waves to push back boats.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer condemned the “inhuman” suggestions and told the Home Office to “get your house in order”.

Australian human rights lawyer Sonya Sceats, the boss of charity Freedom from Torture, described the ideas as “ludicrous”, saying Britain should not be taking tips from her home country on a “morally abominable” off-shore asylum system.

Giving evidence to the Commons Public Accounts Committee on Thursday, Mr Rycroft refused to confirm if Ascension Island was being considered as a “serious suggestion”, despite being asked four times.

But he did say “everything is on the table” as ministers and officials brainstormed future policy.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “As the public will fully understand, we do not comment on operational matters because to do so could provide an advantage to the exploitative and ruthless criminals who facilitate these dangerous crossing, as they look for new ways to beat the system.”

Around two thirds of the group being reunited with family in the UK are children, with the youngest aged six.

They include Iraqi, Kuwait, Afghan, Syrian and Bangladeshi nationals.

Five arrived on Monday, eight on Tuesday, seven on Thursday with the remaining eight set to arrive on Friday.

The UK resettles more refugees than any other country in Europe, the department said, including more than 25,000 since 2015 half of which were children.

In the year to June the country granted protection to over 6,320 children and more than 44,600 children since 2010, a spokesman added.

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