LONDON: The union representing members of the UK Border Force has condemned the appointment of those behind Australia’s offshore asylum policy to review their own activities as “totally inappropriate”.
The Union for Public and Commercial Services said it was “deeply concerning” that Alexander Downer had been appointed to review Border Force activities, including in the English Channel.
Downer, who previously served as Australia’s foreign minister, was the main negotiator for the country’s asylum offshoring policy, which places would-be refugees and migrants in offshore centres while their applications are processed – sometimes for up to seven years.
“He was a prime architect of Australia’s inhumane immigration policy and his support for push backs recently make him a wholly inappropriate choice to lead this review,” a PCS spokesperson told The Independent.
The union said: “Border Force staff need support and resources to do a very difficult job as humanely as possible. That will all be put in jeopardy if they are forced to carry out a potentially illegal and morally reprehensible push-back policy on the instructions of the home secretary.”
The ISU union, which also represents Border Force staff, said Downer is a “clearly political appointment to press a personal agenda on the part of the home secretary.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel has long argued for stricter asylum policies, including pushbacks of asylum seeker and migrant vessels in the English Channel, despite the policy being subject to legal challenge and widely condemned as dangerous and wrong.
“ISU will act to protect the right of its members to act only within the law,” said ISU professional officer Lucy Morton.
Patel “authorized” the pushback last year, but it has yet to happen and is currently under legal challenge from PCS and Care4Calais charities.
Clare Moseley, founder of Care4Calais, told The Independent: “The Australian offshore asylum program was one of the most reprehensible systems in the world, leading to untold human misery and widespread condemnation.”
Referring to an op-ed by Downer in the Daily Mail in which he advocated a boycott, Mosley said: “It is clear that the reference to the ‘threat’ at our border refers to the Strait. Migrants, but they’re no longer a threat than any bus for the average Brit.”
In recent years, Britain has grappled with a growing number of arrivals via the English Channel, which has been causing diplomatic problems with neighbouring France and domestic political trouble for the ruling Conservative Party.
The offshore asylum scheme is designed to stop asylum seekers and migrants from crossing the English Channel, while also reassuring voters who support hardline asylum policies.
So far, however, all countries listed as potential locations for processing asylum seekers have publicly distanced themselves from the program.