Scrap the UK’s costly and inefficient asylum scheme with Rwanda

Ioana Diac

July 25, 2022

The Government’s plan to send asylum seekers to have their asylum claims processed in Rwanda is not only incredibly costly, but also highly likely to be ineffective. Despite this, both Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss have pledged to keep the Rwanda policy and committed to exploring similar deals with other countries.

First, the UK’s plan to send those who arrive via irregular means on a one-way flight to Rwanda is extremely expensive. Not only is the UK investing £120 million into Rwanda’s economic development upfront, it is also paying to support the delivery of asylum operations, accommodation and integration which are similar to the costs incurred in the UK for these services.

The Times reported that each migrant sent to Rwanda is expected to cost the British taxpayer between £20,000 and £30,000. The first flight to Rwanda alone, which was grounded after a last-minute intervention by the European Court of Human Rights, cost the taxpayer an eye-watering £500,000.

If the UK is having to spend more money directing asylum seekers to Rwanda, it begs the question of why the Home Office are not processing asylum claims domestically. Even the Home Office’s chief civil servant could not precisely quantify the benefits of the Rwanda policy, which left Priti Patel taking personal responsibility for the policy and forcing it through using a ministerial direction.

Second, the Rwanda scheme will likely do nothing to reduce the number of dangerous Channel crossings. Offshore asylum processing schemes in Australia and Israel had no effect on the number of people seeking asylum. Australia’s offshore detention system failed to stop people making the journey to the country by boat, whilst Israel’s now-abandoned scheme to send Eritrean and Sudanese refugees to Rwanda saw nearly all 4,000 of them leaving the central African country almost immediately, with many making their way to Europe via people-smuggling routes. These examples demonstrate that offshore schemes are not effective long-term deterrents to stop people from seeking asylum in wealthy countries.

What could help? One step would be to make the advertisement of people smuggling on social media illegal. This would frustrate the business model of people smugglers.

Also, why not allow people to apply for asylum in UK embassies and high commissions in a select number of third countries overseas? This would likely redirect people from making the dangerous and illegal journey across the Channel. Ultimately, providing safe and legal routes for more refugees to come to the UK would likely stop dangerous boat crossings and save hundreds of lives.

Alternatives to the Rwanda asylum scheme do exist. It is time for the leadership contenders to be bolder and more thoughtful, offering less expensive and more effective policies to reduce the number of dangerous journeys across the English Channel.


Written by Ioana Diac

Ioana Diac is a researcher at the independent think tank Bright Blue.

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