Rwanda Policy Could Cost £2 Million per Illegal Migrant but Sunak Says It Is ‘Worthwhile Investment’

The prime minister said the government had ’made progress,' but the National Audit Office estimates the scheme could cost up to £500 million.
Rwanda Policy Could Cost £2 Million per Illegal Migrant but Sunak Says It Is ‘Worthwhile Investment’
President of Rwanda Paul Kagame (R) meets British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at Downing Street in London on May 4, 2023. (Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Chris Summers

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has insisted the Rwanda policy is a “worthwhile investment” as the National Audit Office (NAO) revealed the plan could cost almost £2 million for each of the first 300 illegal migrants sent to the east African country.

The NAO, in a report published on Friday, said the Home Office would pay £370 million to the Rwandan government, even if no migrants arrive in Kigali.

On top of that it will pay £20,000 for every immigrant and £120 million after the first 300 people are relocated.

Asked about the report, Mr. Sunak said: “The current situation is unsustainable and unfair. Taxpayers are already forking out millions of pounds a day to house illegal migrants in hotels across the country, that’s not right. That why I made stopping the boats one of my priorities.”

He said the government had “made progress” and brought down the numbers by a third but he added: “In order to fully resolve this issue we need to have a deterrent. We need to be able to say if you come here illegally, you won’t be able to stay, we can remove you to a safe country.”

“That’s why the Rwanda scheme is so important. It’s a worthwhile investment and I’m determined to see it through,” said the prime minister, who is pushing the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill through Parliament.

The NAO said Britain would pay the Rwandan government nearly £151,000 per relocated person over five years to cover asylum processing and integration costs.

Rwanda has already received a down payment of £20 million.

The NAO said the direct costs to the Home Office of establishing the UK–Rwanda Partnership was £28 million.

Each Deportee’s Flight Would Cost £11,000

Other costs the Home Office will incur include £11,000 per deportee for flights and £12.6 million in training staff over the next 12 months.

Critics said the “staggering figures” reveal “the extortionate bill the taxpayer will have to pay the Rwandan government for an unworkable and inhumane scheme” and “the national scandal the Tories have been trying to hide.”

The government has already paid Kigali £220 million under the Economic Transformation and Integration Fund designed to support Rwanda’s growth, even as flights have remained grounded amid a series of legal setbacks.

It was also already known that an extra £50 million 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 £370 million.

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

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

The chair of Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee, Labour MP Dame Diana Johnson, said: “These are staggering figures. For all its rhetoric about ensuring value for money in the asylum and immigration system it is unclear how schemes such as Rwanda or Bibby Stockholm achieve that.”

“Huge initial outlay and ongoing costs raise serious questions about how this can be cost effective, even compared to high hotel accommodation costs,” she added.

Dame Diana said: “What we are left with is a very expensive programme the government hopes may offer a deterrent to those seeking to cross the Channel in small boats. Yet, there is little evidence for this either.”

She added, “For a scheme whose importance is apparently self-evident, we would expect the evidence base to be far clearer, not presented in dribs and drabs and getting worse every time.”

The Rwanda policy was originally pioneered by the-then Home Secretary Priti Patel in 2022, but attempts to get flights off the ground have been blocked by legal challenges by human rights campaigners.

Is Rwanda Safe or Unsafe?

In November the Supreme Court ruled the policy was unlawful because Rwanda was not a “safe” country and there remained a risk genuine asylum seekers would be sent back to the country from where they had fled by the government of President Paul Kagame.

Mr. Sunak responded to that setback by pledging to push legislation through Parliament which would affirm the government’s contention that Rwanda was a safe country.

That bill is now awaiting its third reading and earlier this month a Home Office spokesman said: “Rwanda is clearly a safe country that cares deeply about supporting refugees. It hosts more than 135,000 asylum seekers and stands ready to relocate people and help them rebuild their lives.”

Mr. Sunak is expected to call a general election in the autumn and he has promised to get the Rwanda policy up and running before he goes to the polls.

Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said of the NAO’s finding: “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 percent of UK asylum seekers to Rwanda on a few symbolic flights, the taxpayer will be forced to fork out over half a billion pounds, with no ability to recover any of the money already sent. This is the equivalent of nearly £2 million per person sent,” she added.

PA Media contributed to this report.
Chris Summers is a UK-based journalist covering a wide range of national stories, with a particular interest in crime, policing and the law.
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