Dominic Raab has not denied that ministers are hoping to secure a deal to fly migrants who cross the Channel on small boats to Albania.
The deputy prime minister and justice secretary told Sky News it is “right” to “look, at least, at possibilities of international partnerships – international processing of some of these claims”.
It comes as The Times reports ministers are hoping to seal an agreement to fly Channel-crossing migrants to the south-eastern European country for offshore processing within seven days of arrival on British beaches.
It’s suggested that the prospect of a long wait there while asylum claims are evaluated would act as a deterrent against making the treacherous journey.
Albania is the latest destination the government has considered using as a base for an asylum processing centre.
In September last year, a Home Office source said the government was looking at the idea of “offshoring people” and it was understood that the Foreign Office carried out an assessment for Ascension Island – a remote UK territory more than 4,000 miles away.
The government reportedly looked at the practicalities of such an arrangement and decided not to proceed.
At the time, shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: “This ludicrous idea is inhumane, completely impractical and wildly expensive – so it seems entirely plausible this Tory government came up with it.”
St Helena, in the South Atlantic, is also said to have previously been considered by the government.
Speaking to Sky News on Thursday, Mr Raab said: “We’ve seen 19,000 crossings stopped this year alone, 65 convictions secured – the predatory criminal gangs that thrive on this miserable trade.
“And the home secretary has been engaged with her opposite numbers this week, their determination is to eliminate all of these illegal crossings.
“I think it is right there is practice around the world in relation to this to look, at least, at possibilities of international partnerships – international processing of some of these claims.”
Pressed on whether these individuals would be going to Albania, he said “that is one country” – and “we are willing to look with partners at whether it is possible to do this international processing”.
Mr Raab said “regional processing” was “probably the best way” to deal with refugees, but added: “We want to look with international partners at how we reduce the pull factor – so that is the incentives for criminal gangs to try and bring people from these war-torn zones or these poor parts of the world to the UK.”
Australia has controversially used offshore processing for asylum seekers for over 40 years.
Mr Raab’s comments come as record-breaking numbers of people continue to make the crossing.
More than 23,000 people have arrived in the UK this year after crossing the Channel in small boats – almost three times the total of around 8,500 in 2020.
A total of 1,185 migrants reached the UK in small boats last Thursday alone – a new daily record.
In recent weeks, at least two people have died while trying to attempt the perilous journey, and several more have been feared to be lost at sea.
Speaking to MPs on Wednesday, one of the government’s immigration ministers disclosed that just five migrants who crossed the Channel by boat to the UK have been returned to Europe so far this year.
Tom Pursglove, a minister for both the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice, said there had been “difficulties securing returns” when he was questioned by the Commons Home Affairs Committee.
Ministers have for a long time debated the most effective way of reducing the number of individuals attempting to cross the Channel.
In August, Home Secretary Priti Patel promised to “make this route unviable” – but crossings have reached record levels since then and the government has agreed to pay France £54m to increase immigration controls.