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Government Rwanda policy will fail to stop Channel crossings, MPs find

Rwanda policy failure border force boat

A new report from the Home Affairs Committee has warned that the Government’s attempts to find a silver bullet solution to stop channel crossings are unlikely to stop thousands more people making the life-threatening journey this year.

In a report published today, the Committee of senior MPs finds that the asylum agreement with Rwanda so far shows no evidence of being the deterrent it is intended to be.

The Committee has called on the Government to fix the broken asylum system that continues to struggle to cope with the backlog in cases, despite there being little growth in the overall numbers making claims.

Channel crossing numbers continue to rise

Crossings in small boats continue to rise significantly.

According to official statistics, 28,5000 people arrived in the UK in 2021 and 14,000 have come so far in 2022, with the total expected to be 60,000 by the end of the year. The 20-mile journey is across the world’s busiest shipping lane and hazardous in the small craft commonly used.

At least 166 people have died or gone missing attempting the crossing, including 27 in a single day.

The report finds that efforts by the Government to find a single, low-cost, solution to close off this route of entry are unrealistic and will not succeed. Threats of being put on a flight to Rwanda with no chance of return to the UK have so far failed to stop people making the extremely dangerous journey across the Channel.

Motivations of people making the dangerous crossing and their understanding of what will happen when they arrive in the UK, are also poorly understood and insufficient to inform good policy. 

An effective deterrent

The Committee found that an effective deterrent would is needed to prevent small boats from ever leaving France.

The Committee concluded that those with a valid asylum claim should not need to risk their lives to get to the UK. While individual schemes have been set up in response to international crises supporting resettlement to the UK, most asylum applications must be made after arrival in the UK.

MPs said safe and legal routes need to be established to support those with an asylum claim in coming to the UK without the need to use criminal gangs to get there. The Committee called on the Government to explore setting up UK asylum processing facilities in France, with the agreement of the French Government, so that claims can be assessed there. 

The Committee has called on the Government to reveal the detailed costings for its Migration and Economic Development Partnership with Rwanda, including the costs for relocation. Calling on the Government to prove its case, the scheme will save £1.5 billion current cost to the asylum system. 

The Committee is particularly concerned that the Government is outsourcing its responsibility for ensuring the mental and physical safety of those seeking asylum to another country, at some cost to its international responsibilities and its reputation.

The committee stated that Ministers must recognise that their responsibility does not end once it has put asylum applicants on a plane and provide assurances that it will actively monitor the housing, health and education of all those transferred. 

Baroness Morgan and Sir Robert Buckland discuss the migration issue

Working with EU Partners

The Committee concluded that the aim should be to have an asylum system that is fair and efficient. This will require policy based on detailed evidence, fully costed, fully tested, and recognising that change will be incremental.

MPs found that the UK also needs to do more to work with European partners, sharing intelligence and equipment, and working together to clamp down on criminal gangs that drive people smuggling.

Since leaving the EU’s Dublin Regulation arrangements because of the UK’s exit agreement with the EU, The Committee found that the UK Government has found it difficult to return Channel crossing migrants to safe countries they have travelled through and could have claimed asylum.

Attempts to deliver bilateral agreements have so far failed and the Committee called on the Government to focus on achieving a co-operative arrangement with the EU if it is to achieve its goal. 

An asylum system that deals with reality

Commenting on the publication of today’s report, Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, Dame Diana Johnson said: 

“It is clear that the asylum system is broken, but it is not those making Channel crossings who broke it. Policy development in this area has moved away from evidence-based, tested and cost-effective solutions reacting to the changing demands placed on it. Instead, we have a search for radical new policies that might make good headlines but do little to stem the flow of people prepared to put their lives at risk to reach the UK by any means necessary.

The failure to ensure safe routes are available to all those who would have a rightful asylum claim leaves people little choice but to use drastic measures to get here. Despite much sabre rattling that people should claim asylum in the first safe country they arrive in, the Government has made slow progress in setting up deals with international partners to facilitate returns. Its deterrent policy of sending asylum applicants to Rwanda appears to have gone unnoticed by those who attempt to cross the Channel. 

The UK needs an asylum system that deals with reality. It must be fair, efficient and acknowledge the UK’s international obligations. It should work to remove obstacles for those likely to have a valid claim to come to the UK, whilst working with international partners to combat the criminal gangs facilitating illegal entry. Meeting this challenge will require careful planning and detailed understanding of the problems it seeks to solve. There is no quick-fix solution.”

In response to the report, the Home Office said there was “no silver bullet” to the “global migration crisis”, but that the Government must do “everything we can to fix the broken asylum system”.

A Home Office spokesperson said, “Our New Plan for Immigration will bring in the biggest package of reforms in decades, allowing us to support those in genuine need while preventing illegal and dangerous journeys into the UK, and breaking the business model of vile people smugglers.”

The Home Office also said it was recruiting more decision makers, improving digital technology, offering more remote interviews to reduce waiting times and improving the interview process to “ensure decisions are right first time”.

Final Thought

It has been an open secret in Westminster for months that the Rwanda policy simply is not working. Today’s report provides the first evidence of the scheme’s failures.

The cross-party committee provide a damning assessment when all five candidates standing for the leadership of the Conservative Party back the scheme. The new Prime Minister is likely to continue with the programme despite polling showing that it is not a popular scheme with the majority of the electorate.

The Home Office is right, there is no silver bullet, but surely today’s report should reframe the discussion about acting with preventative measures. Removing access to flimsy boats in France, redoubling efforts to cooperate with our nearest neighbours.

Surely some evidence-based policy interventions are long overdue – the horrendous stain is that more people will die making the crossing unless the Government changes its stance.

To download the full report click here.

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