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‘National scandal’ as shock report reveals Rwanda plan costs to top £500m

Just 300 asylum seekers will be sent to Rwanda at a cost of £1.9m each, the National Audit Office report found

Archie Mitchell
Friday 01 March 2024 00:01 GMT
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Illegal migration minister 'guarantees' Rwanda flights before election

Rishi Sunak’s beleaguered Rwanda deportation plan will cost taxpayers more than £500m, a shock report reveals today.

In a revelation branded a “national scandal” by Labour, the public spending watchdog said the scheme would cost £576.8m if just 300 asylum seekers were sent to the east African nation.

It would represent a total of £1.92m per person sent to Rwanda and account for just 1 per cent of the UK’s asylum seekers.

Yvette Cooper, Labour’s shadow home secretary, said: “This report reveals the national scandal the Tories have been trying to hide.”

Rishi Sunak bet Piers Morgan £1,000 that deportation flights to Rwanda would leave before next election (Piers Morgan Uncensored/TalkTV)

The government’s plan, unveiled two years ago by Boris Johnson, was for those arriving in the UK via irregular routes such as channel crossings to be permanently deported to Rwanda.

It was deemed unlawful in November by the Supreme Court and Mr Sunak is staging a desperate last-ditch bid to force the plan through - with a bill deeming Rwanda a “safe” country making its way through the House of Lords.

But the PM will come under fresh pressure over the scheme after the National Audit Office (NAO) laid bare its cost – enough to cover the £20,000-a-day bill for migrant patrol vessel HMS Mersey for the next 70 years.

Among the report’s key findings were:

  • The Home Office will pay the Rwandan government £370m, with a further £120m once 300 people have been relocated to the country
  • Britain will also spend as much as £150,874 on processing and operational costs for each asylum seeker sent to Rwanda
  • The Home Office has already sent Rwanda £220m under a part of the scheme aimed at developing Rwanda’s economy
  • And it has spent a further £20m to set up the Rwanda scheme, without a single asylum seeker having been deported

The deportation policy is a key plank of Mr Sunak’s pledge to “stop the boats”, with the PM and home secretary James Cleverly arguing it will act as a deterrent to potential asylum seekers.

But the government has been heavily criticised for failing to produce any evidence of the supposed deterrent effect, and Home Office permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft told MPs last year there was none.

The Home Office has so far refused to say how much more money, on top of the £290m already confirmed, the UK has agreed to pay Kigali under the stalled plan.

Rishi Sunak has staked his premiership on the promise to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda (Getty)

But the NAO’s first full breakdown of the costs of the scheme will pile pressure on Mr Sunak to scrap the programme.

Labour, which will scrap the policy if it wins the general election expected this autumn, said the PM has “staked his position on this scheme” and “must account for this fiasco”.

Ms Cooper said: “This report reveals the national scandal the Tories have been trying to hide. Its shocking analysis shows the costs of the failed Rwanda farce are even higher than previously thought.

“In order to send less than 1 per cent of UK asylum seekers to Rwanda on a few symbolic flights, the taxpayer will be forced fork out over half a billion pounds - with no ability to recover any of the money already sent. This is the equivalent of nearly £2m per person sent.”

Meanwhile, Dame Diana Johnson, chair of parliament’s influential home affairs committee, said the cost of the scheme was “staggering”.

“For all its rhetoric about ensuring value for money in the asylum and immigration system it is unclear how schemes such as Rwanda or the Bibby Stockholm barge achieve that,” she said.

Dame Diana said the “huge initial outlay” and ongoing costs “raise serious questions about how this can be cost-effective, even compared to high hotel accommodation costs”.

Refugee Council chief executive Enver Solomon said: "These figures reveal the extortionate bill the taxpayer will have to pay the Rwandan government for an unworkable and inhumane scheme that will not deter people seeking protection on our shores."

Britain is spending £8m a day, or more than £3bn a year, housing asylum seekers in hotels.

And the Home Office said that “doing nothing is not without significant costs”. “Unless we act, the cost of housing asylum seekers is set to reach £11bn per year by 2026,” a spokesperson said.

The spokesperson added: “Illegal migration costs lives and perpetuates human trafficking, and it is therefore right that we fund solutions to break this unsustainable cycle.

“We have a strong relationship with Rwanda and both sides remain absolutely determined to deliver on this partnership. Once the Safety of Rwanda Bill and Treaty are in place, we will focus on getting flights off the ground.”

The number of migrants crossing the channel last year fell by around a third, and Mr Sunak has said he is “getting on with” delivering on the stop the boats pledge. He has spoken about wanting to get flights departing to Rwanda “as soon as practically possible”.

It was already known that an extra £50m was earmarked for the partnership for next year. But the NAO revealed the same sum will also be sent to Rwanda in 2025 and in 2026, taking the cost to £370m.

On top of that, once the first 300 migrants have been relocated to Rwanda, ministers have agreed to put another £120m into the fund, lifting the total to £490m.

In addition, an extra £20,000 will be paid to Rwanda for every asylum seeker relocated there, according to the NAO report.

The Home Office will also separately hand Kigali nearly £151,000 per person to cover asylum processing and integration costs, such as accommodation, food, healthcare and education, over five years if they stay in the country.

If they decide to leave, Britain would halt payments for that person, but would still give Rwanda a one-off £10,000 to help facilitate their departure.

The government has already sent Kigali an advance payment of £20m to cover these processing and operational costs for the first arrivals.

In total, the cost in a scenario where 300 individuals were sent to Rwanda would equal £576.8m.

It came as new government figures show 120,000 people were still waiting on a decision on their asylum claim at the end of December last year, despite a record number of refugees being granted protection.

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