Britain will save money in the “longer term” by sending some asylum seekers to Rwanda, a minister has said after the reported cost of about £30,000 a person was described as “eye-watering”.
Defending the decision to fly out many of those who arrive on the Kent coast to a country more than 4,000 miles away, Home Office minister Tom Pursglove said it would “crush” the business model of people smugglers.
He added that those transferred would be able to embark on “fully prosperous” lives in Rwanda, and that the short-term costs would be “pretty equivalent” to what the UK is now paying to accommodate those claiming asylum.
But another Tory MP, Andrew Mitchell, said it would be cheaper to put up those arriving in Britain at the Ritz for a year.
The former international development secretary said the new scheme would prove “incredibly expensive” for British taxpayers – as well as being impractical and immoral.
He added that a cost of up to £30,000 per person, covering their accommodation before and after the journey, as well as the one-way plane ticket to Rwanda, was “eye-watering”.
The cost factor has worried other Conservative MPs. ITV News said the Home Office permanent secretary had sought a “ministerial direction” because of concerns about value for money – meaning the home secretary, Priti Patel, had to override civil servants’ qualms.
But Pursglove said £120m had been earmarked for the initial cost of the scheme.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “As we move forward, we will continue to make contributions to Rwanda as they process the cases, in a manner that is similar to the amount of money we are spending on this currently here in the UK.
“But longer term, by getting this under control, it should help us to save money. We are spending £5m per day accommodating individuals who are crossing in hotels. That is not sustainable and is not acceptable and we have to get that under control.”
Patel was in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, on Thursday to sign the deal.
The prime minister, Boris Johnson, is said to want to see the first migrants flown out in roughly six weeks – just after the local elections, when the Conservatives are braced for a difficult set of results.
Pursglove would not give an exact timeframe for the first asylum seeker to be forcibly removed to Rwanda, but told Sky News that the policy would be implemented quickly.
He added that those who had arrived in the UK since 1 January 2022 via “illegal means” could still be eligible to be “transferred as part of this arrangement” with Rwanda.
Denmark has welcomed Britain’s deal with Rwanda and hopes other countries will follow.
“I do not know the details of the agreement between Rwanda and the UK, but based on the public announcement it seems to be a good step forward,” said Denmark’s minister for immigration and integration, Mattias Tesfaye.
“I hope more European countries in the near future will support the vision of tackling irregular migration through committed partnerships with countries outside Europe.”
The wealthy Scandinavian country has become notorious for its hardline migration policies, such as last year’s decision to revoke the resident permits of Syrian refugees, arguing that parts of the war-torn country were safe to return to.
In June 2021 the Danish parliament passed a law allowing the external processing of asylum claims, a move that was questioned by EU authorities at the time. Copenhagen has since been in talks with Kigali, but has not signed an agreement on the transfer of asylum seekers.
Several EU countries have looked at similar offshore processing plans, but the ideas have never got off the ground. In 2018 the EU proposed “regional disembarkation platforms” in north Africa to process asylum claims of people rescued in the Mediterranean Sea, but failed to find countries willing to host them.