Britain to spend half of foreign aid budget on domestic projects for migrants

Rishi Sunak optimistic solution can be found to record numbers of migrants arriving on England's south coast

A man and a young child pictured at the Manston immigration facility in Kent. Getty
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Britain’s spiralling migrant crisis is on track to eat up almost half of its foreign aid budget as the record number of people arriving via illegal routes places unprecedented strain on the system.

But Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he was optimistic, after meeting French President Emmanuel Macron, that the UK can work with European nations on the migrant challenge.

Mr Sunak said there was “lots” to talk about when they met for the first time on the sidelines of the Cop27 gathering in Egypt.

“I'm actually leaving this with renewed confidence and optimism that working together with our European partners, we can make a difference, grip this challenge of illegal migration and stop people coming illegally,” Mr Sunak said on Monday.

The number of illegal crossings of the busy shipping lanes since the start of the year is nearing 40,000. It is already the highest figure recorded since records began in 2018. There were 28,526 people registered in 2021, while the number in 2020 was 8,404.

“This is an issue that affects many countries. And actually I've been talking to other European leaders as well about our shared challenge of tackling illegal migration,” Mr Sunak said.

“And I think there is an opportunity for us to work closely, not just with the French but with other countries as well.

“By working together with our European partners, we can make a difference, grip this challenge of illegal migration and stop people coming illegally.”

The huge influx of boats crossing the English Channel, coupled with the cost of hospitality for Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion, will push the Treasury’s spending on UK immigration to as much as £3.5 billion.

By being considered part of Britain’s contribution to international development, the sum will make up around half of the foreign aid budget, The Times reported.

About 0.3 per cent of gross national income (GNI) will be spent on projects overseas, less than the government’s target of 0.5 per cent.

The UN has a target for countries to spend 0.7 per cent of their GNI on an entire overseas aid package. The UK’s slashed its contribution to 0.5 per cent during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Business Secretary Grant Shapps said rules on foreign aid spending with regard to migrants in the UK have not changed.

Speaking to Times Radio on Monday, he said “more money” is being spent in that way. It had “always been the case” that some of the cash has been invested in migrants seeking a new home in Britain, he said.

“Actually, the rules on the way that foreign aid spending works are extremely strict,” he said.

“So, there’s no change in rules. What we do know, of course, is that too many people have been making that incredibly perilous, dangerous journey across the Channel with smugglers. So, that has led to more money being spent in that way. But it’s not a change in the rules in any sense.”

The reductions to Britain's foreign aid budget affected the amount of cash allocated to overseas projects in places such as Afghanistan, Yemen, Ethiopia and the Palestinian Territories.

Vital projects across Africa, where the UK has historically been a large provider of aid, took a big hit.

Problems at UK centre

In the UK, dire conditions at the Manston immigration facility in Kent have put Channel crossings in the spotlight.

Built to hold 1,600 passing through over a 24-hour period, the site has recently hosted as many as 4,000 men, women and children, some for weeks on end. Lack of hygiene has resulted in cases of diphtheria and scabies while frustration among detainees has led to unrest.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman claimed the UK’s asylum system is “broken” and illegal immigration is “out of control” as she defended the government’s treatment of migrants in the face of criticism.

Conservative MPs joined opposition lawmakers in hitting out at the Home Office’s handling of the crisis, which has left the system for dealing with asylum seekers and refugees bursting at the seams.

Ms Braverman stoked tensions by declaring there was an “invasion” of migrants on Britain's south-eastern coast.

Mr Shapps said the situation at Manston was “tipping into becoming an unofficial detention centre” when he served as home secretary for a six-day period last month.

He told BBC Breakfast that he was determined to ensure operations at the facility were kept in line with the law and he instituted changes by “both moving people out but also the running of the centre itself to ensure that it wasn’t a detention centre”.

“Those are decisions that I very quickly made,” he said. “Actually, the home secretary subsequently has continued to make the same changes to make sure that those numbers are brought down.”

In an interview with Sky News, Mr Shapps said he was advised Britain was “in danger” of breaking the law over its processing of migrants at Manston.

Asked why he was keen to move migrants into hotels while he was in the role, he said: “Simply that we’ve got to be careful not to break the law ourselves by detaining people who are able to be outside of that — well, it’s not a detention centre, but a processing centre at Manston.”

Updated: November 07, 2022, 4:14 PM