Rwanda migrant plan 'works by shutting down criminal people smuggling gangs'

Home Office minister Tom Pursglove raised prospect of a 'closing down sale' rush of migrants

People arrive at Dover Docks after border officials picked up a boat carrying migrants in the English Channel. EPA

A government minister has insisted that a new UK policy to send migrants to Rwanda would cut human smuggling operations across the English Channel but admitted people were still making the risky small boat journeys.

Tom Pursglove, a Home Office minister, said people still attempting to reach the southern English coast may have already paid smuggling gangs for passage but that the Rwanda plan would ultimately damage the criminals’ business model.

He declined to give numbers for the expected cut in journeys, however, saying he did not want to encourage a “closing down sale” opportunity for criminals trying to exploit migrants on the northern European coastline.

More than 28,000 people arrived in the UK by small boat last year and about 8,000 have arrived so far this year — more than three times the amount that arrived during the same period of 2021.

The minister was also unable to point to any modelling studies that could gauge the impact of the new policy, which has faced strong criticism from the UN and migrant groups.

“This is a new and untested policy at this point in time,” he told MPs on the parliamentary Home Affairs Committee.

“I do think that in the fullness of time, we will see this policy, as part of a wider package that we are introducing, really shift the dynamic.”

The British government has said that it will pay the Rwandan government an initial £120 million to resettle asylum seekers who arrive in small boats and hidden in the back of lorries.

The UK will also pay asylum processing fees of £12,000 per person — similar to the current cost in the UK. If the asylum seekers are successful, they will be allowed to settle in Rwanda but with no prospect of residency in the UK.

Announcing the programme last month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said “tens of thousands” of people could be sent to Rwanda under the “uncapped” scheme. The first migrants who could be sent to East Africa are due to be told this week, the government said.

But Rwanda processed a maximum of 302 asylum seekers in any of the last four years, raising questions of the country’s ability to cope, UN figures published by the government show.

And the committee heard that Israel sent 4,000 refugees to Rwanda between 2014 and 2017, with only nine of them remaining in the country a year later.

The government documents also highlighted concerns over the potential treatment of asylum seekers in Rwanda.

“Variable treatment or experiences of relocated persons based on their nationality, ethnic or national origins or colour will be kept under close review,” said one document.

Joanna Cherry, a Scottish Nationalist MP, asked the minister if he accepted reports by the US State Department, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that documented “unlawful or arbitrary killings” in Rwanda.

Mr Pursglove said: “Overall Rwanda is a safe and secure country for the resettlement of individuals.”

Updated: May 11, 2022, 4:14 PM