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Deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda won’t work - and ministers don’t care

4 min read

As government rams through the final votes on the Nationality and Borders Bill, its recent announcement on Rwanda jars with anyone serious about fixing our broken asylum system.

The proposals are not to offshore asylum processing, as we debated and scrutinised in the Nationality and Borders Bill Committee, but to offload our entire asylum system to Rwanda. 

Those who are transferred will pass through Rwanda’s asylum system – with no chance of returning to the UK with refugee status. The Home Secretary repeatedly states that those seeking refuge in the UK should use "safe and legal" routes but won’t say what they are.  

There are recent specialised schemes – for Ukraine, Afghanistan and Hong Kong – which provide a route to the UK. However, these do not grant refugee status and the internationally recognised protection that it brings. Offloading our asylum system to a country nearly 5,000 miles away is another step towards the end of refuge in the UK. 

We’re still not clear who qualifies for transfer to Rwanda – the Home Office has briefed the media that it will be “adult men”, but the Home Office factsheet explains that “every person who comes to the UK illegally or by dangerous and unnecessary methods …. will be considered for relocation to Rwanda”. 

We don’t know the cost of putting a person through this system.  

Our asylum system is broken, but we need real solutions not toxic rhetoric

Offshoring asylum processing cost Australia over £1.7 million per asylum seeker, a hundred times more than our current system, and did not include the longer-term funding promised to Rwanda.  

The year after Australia started offshoring its asylum seekers, the number of boats attempting to reach its shores increased. It did not break the financial model of people smugglers. 

And the plans are already falling apart before they’ve begun.  

The Prime Minister told a press conference in Kent that the Rwanda deal is “uncapped” and that “tens of thousands of people” could be resettled. However, it’s clear that the arrangement with Rwanda has nowhere near that capacity, with reports this weekend that the planned accommodation showcased by Priti Patel’s visit houses less than 200 – currently supporting Rwandans affected by the 1994 genocide.  

Although the Refugee Council’s analysis showing that just 172 might be deported to Rwanda has been contested by the Home Office, it is clear that very small numbers will be involved in the government’s plans.  

When Israel tried a version of this model, it also ended in catastrophic failure.  As even the Daily Mail reported, out of the 4,000 asylum seekers sent to Rwanda from Israel, only 9 remained there the year after the scheme ended, after many had travelled to Europe.  

It isn’t surprising that the Home Office could not sign off the value for money of this policy. 

Their own impact assessment explains that, when it comes to using deterrents of this kind to reduce dangerous channel crossings, “evidence supporting the effectiveness of this approach is limited” and reports from Calais and Dunkirk suggest those planning on making the crossing are undeterred. 

Ministers know their plan will fail to break the business model of the people smugglers, so what’s it about?  

They clearly hope that grabbing headlines for talking tough on refugees will deflect attention from their failure to fulfill their promises on channel crossings.   

After 12 years of Conservative government, with processing times at an all-time high, our asylum system is broken, but we need real solutions not toxic rhetoric.  

Safe and legal routes would offer an alternative to desperate refugees and, as justice committee chair Bob Neill argued last week, investment in the system would enable faster processing. We also need agreements with our European neighbours and EUROPOL on tackling people smuggling. 

Ministers may be content to waste billions of taxpayers’ money on a scheme we already know doesn’t work, but after tonight’s votes we will still need to find real solutions.   


Paul Blomfield is the Labour MP for Sheffield Central and served on the Nationality and Borders Bill Committee.

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