Offshore it and it will go away: the Tory solution

Offshore it and it will go away: From migration to social issues, the Tories have only one inhumane solution
5 min read
06 Jul, 2021
Opinion: The Tory government's proposal to physically offshore migrants is part of a wider policy of ignoring and offshoring social problems across the board, writes Malia Bouattia.
UK Home Secretary Priti Patel has supported a number of extreme and xenophobic immigration policies. [Getty]

Many things can be said about Home Secretary Priti Patel, but you have to give it to her: every single time she announces new policies she somehow manages to deliver even more xenophobia and racism than before.

Her latest plan is to offshore asylum seekers abroad. The Times reported that the Home Office has met with officials in Denmark to discuss setting up a processing centre for migrants in Africa, potentially in Rwanda.

Patel has long been inspired by an Australian-style immigration approach, as she referenced in her 2019 speech at the Conservative Party Conference, which uses a points system to rank applicants based on education, language skills, and work experience. Australia has practised its own offshoring of migrants to Nauru and Papua New Guinea since 2012.

Last year, the Financial Times reported that Patel was considering the possibility of shipping asylum seekers off to Ascension Island in the South Atlantic. The fact that she is again actively seeking a partnership with another state for offshoring migration, should cause serious worry for all those who continue to want an end to the militarisation of borders.

The Home Office stated that "[w]e have been looking at what other countries do to deter illegal migration and this work continues. We will not rule out any option that could help reduce the illegal migration."

"The message is clear: searching for a better life in the UK is a crime, one which Patel wants to punish through further exile and incarceration"

Nationality and Borders Bill

Indeed, the Home Secretary's announcement comes against the backdrop of intensifying the dehumanisation of migrants with the Nationality and Borders Bill that is due to go through its first reading in Parliament this week. 

The law sets to further criminalise and, therefore, endanger migrants. Proposals put forward include heavy prison sentences for anyone who intentionally ends up in the UK without formal permission. Those accused of smuggling could face life imprisonment, a sentence much harsher than the current 14-year maximum. Patel claims that the bill provides "vital measures to fix the UK's broken asylum system."

Moreover, the Nationality and Borders Bill is threatening to punish migrants for not seeking asylum in countries that they passed through before arriving in Britain. The message is clear: searching for a better life in the UK is a crime, one which Patel wants to punish through further exile and incarceration.

To add insult to injury, the Home Office professes that its actions are guided by care for the well-being of migrants, stating "we cannot sit idly by while people die attempting to cross the Channel. Our New Plan for Immigration will welcome people through safe and legal routes, whilst preventing abuse of the system and the criminality associated with it."

"Tory rule can be best described as a gang of bullies slicing through everything which represents even the smallest safety net for the most vulnerable in society"

The danger of the right

The expulsion of migrants seeking refuge in the UK is not Priti Patel's invention. Home Secretaries have entertained the inhumane idea in the past, in a bid to flex their muscles in relation to immigration and whip up xenophobic sentiments as a distraction from their otherwise failing political and economic projects. Patel is standing on their shoulders but is going much further than her predecessors in bringing home the far-right dream of discarding anyone it deems unworthy of basic rights - because they were born into the "wrong" part of the world.

Debates on migration and racism have permeated throughout British society, even sport. During European Championship football matches, when English players have taken a knee before each game, as a sign of anti-racism, fans have booed their own team. Football Joe, an entertainment website, published a graphic showing that without immigration, only three of the eleven starting players would be on the pitch. It is of course true that migrants' worth should not be tied to their achievements, sporting and otherwise, but it is important to remember who has, and who continues, to build this country. The irony of Patel cheering on the English football team while trying to create a more "hostile environment" for migrants is not lost. 


A post shared by FootballJOE (@footballjoe)

Right-wing policies, which continue to endanger people at home and abroad, are breaking our society. From underfunding and privatising the NHS, which has cost thousands of lives, even before the Covid-19 pandemic, detaining (or rather, imprisoning) migrants, to the continued worsening of labour regulations, mass surveillance of Muslims, and the rolling back of civil liberties across the board, Tory rule can be best described as a gang of bullies slicing through everything which represents even the smallest safety net for the most vulnerable in society.

Following the catastrophic handling of the public health crisis so far, the government is not just physically offshoring migrants, it is doing the same with the deep social problems that Tory policies have caused - at home and abroad - by transferring them onto poorer nations in the Global South.

We know, through the laws proposed by it, that the priorities of our government are to intensify the violence that migrants are already exposed to. If it truly sought to protect those who risk their lives by crossing the channel, the UK government would allow them safe passage and provide them - at the very least - support and healthcare.

Instead, the opposite has taken place, as the border is extended into universities, schools, welfare services, and hospitals, which are increasingly expected to deny their services to migrants or police and monitor them while they are in their care.

The Labour Party has already declared its opposition to the upcoming bill, and while this is important, pressure must also be felt on the streets. The momentum built through the Kill the Bill protests is needed to stop these anti-migrant measures from becoming law. What Parliament does, the streets can undo, as the slogan goes. Let us not get to that point and, instead, stop Patel, the Home Office, and the Tory government in its tracks.

Malia Bouattia is an activist, a former president of the National Union of Students, and co-founder of the Students not Suspects/Educators not Informants Network.

Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia

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Opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of her employer, or The New Arab and its editorial board or staff.