LONDON: Unions representing members of the UK’s Border Force have decried the appointment of the man behind Australia’s offshore asylum policies to review their own activity as “wholly inappropriate.”
The Public and Commercial Services Union said Alexander Downer’s appointment to review the Border Force’s activities, including in the English Channel, is “deeply concerning.”
Downer previously served as Australia’s foreign minister and was a key negotiator of the country’s asylum offshoring policy, which places would-be refugees and immigrants in offshore centers 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 professional officer Lucy Moreton said: “The ISU will act to protect its members’ rights to act only within the confines of law.”
Pushbacks were “authorized” by Patel last year but have not yet taken place, and are currently subject to a legal challenge brought by the PCS and the Care4Calais charity.
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 argued for pushbacks, Moseley said: “It is clear that the references to a ‘threat’ at our border refer to Channel migrants, but they are no more a threat than any bus-load of ordinary British people.”
Britain has been grappling with an escalating number of arrivals via the English Channel in recent years, and the issue has been causing diplomatic issues with neighboring France, while causing domestic political headaches for the ruling Conservative Party.
The offshore asylum plan is aimed at discouraging asylum seekers and migrants from making the Channel crossing, while also appeasing voters who favor tough asylum policies.
However, all countries so far named as potential locations to process asylum seekers have publicly distanced themselves from the plan.