Boris Johnson’s multi-million pound deal to send asylum seekers to Rwanda while their claims are processed have been condemned as “immoral”, “impractical”, and will involve “astronomical” costs.
The remarks from Andrew Mitchell—a Tory MP and former cabinet minister—came after the prime minister unveiled the plan, which could see thousands of people flown over 4,000 miles to the African country.
No 10’s direct policy, Andrew Griffith, said last night it is hoped the new scheme, which comes with an initial payment to the Rwandan government of £120 million, will be operational in “weeks, or a small number of months”.
But the plans have been met with fierce opposition from charities and campaign groups who have urged ministers to abandon the “shamefully cruel” proposals, while the government also braces for human rights legal challenges in the courts.
speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Mitchell said he recognized that ministers were attempting to tackle “what is a terrible problem” after 28,000 people came to the UK “illicitly” in 2021.
“The government is quite rightly trying to break the smugglers’ sordid and deathly model, and so I am absolutely behind them in doing that,” he said.
However, the former international development secretary added: “The problem with the scheme that they have announced is that I don’t think it will work.
“It is impractical, it is being condemned by churches and civil society, it is immoral and, above all for conservative advocates, it is incredibly expensive.
“The costs are eye-watering. You’re going to send people 6,000 miles into central Africa – it looked when it was discussed in Parliament before that it would actually be cheaper to put each asylum seeker in the Ritz hotel in London.”
He added: “The government must tell Parliament precisely what they estimate these costs will be because they will be astronomical”.
The UK government minister responsible for tackling illegal migration, Tom Pursglove, defended the plans on Friday, but refused to reveal any criteria for those who would be relocated to Rwanda, saying it would play into the hands of “criminal gangs”.
“The fundamental test in all of this is that we will only be relocating people to Rwanda if it is safe for them to be transferred in that way,” he said.
Pressed on whether those fleeing persecution, including Uighur Muslims or Aghans who worked for the UK, would be sent to Rwanda, he replied: “I’m not going to get into the specific criteria. I’m not going to talk nationality by nationality.
“What I can say is this country has a proud record of providing safe and legal routes, providing sanctuary for people.”
Mr Pursglove also declined to discuss the specific cost per person – beyond the initial £120 million deal with Rwanda – adding: “What we cannot continue to have is people risking their lives, but also spending huge sums of money, £5 million a day for example we’re spending on hotels accommodation, that just isn’t sustainable”.
Asked whether the cost per person was less than being in the Ritz hotel for a year, he went on: “The bottom line is that it will very much depend on the volumes of individuals who are being relocated to Rwanda, it will depend on the length of time that they’ve spent Rwandan asylum system.
“It is impossible to quanity those figures at the moment because the fact is there are variables at play here that are very relevant to those overall sums of money”.
Bond, the UK network of NGOs, and more than 160 other British organizations have, however, condemned the plan, claiming it is “fundamentally out of step with widespread public support for refugees in the UK”.
In an open letter to the prime minister and home secretary Priti Patel, the signatories demanded that the government scrap the scheme, cease plans to overhaul the Human Rights Act, and “instead create humane and effective solutions” for those seeking refuge in the UK.
“Sending people seeking asylum to Rwanda will cause immense suffering, with the most vulnerable people bearing the brunt,” they wrote.
“This is a shamefully cruel way to treat people who have come to the UK to seek protection, fleeing persecution or conflict.”