Senior Conservative says Rwanda scheme is ‘very difficult to justify’

A senior Conservative MP has said that the government’s flagship plan to deport illegal migrants to Rwanda neither represents value for money nor acts as a deterrent.

It follows Home Office analysis, published yesterday, which revealed that the scheme will cost £169,000 per person.

Caroline Nokes, as the Conservative chair of the women and equalities committee, has been looking at the impact of the asylum system on women, children, and LGBT people. Asked this morning if the scheme represents value for money, she responded: “No, I don’t think it does”.

Ms Nokes continued: “I have always been concerned that [it is] very difficult to justify why we should be sending asylum seekers to Rwanda to be processed within the Rwandan asylum system when actually we should have better systems set up here to do it.”

The women and equalities committee has maintained that any harm to youngsters caught up in the asylum system must outweigh damage to the government’s policy agenda.

The committee’s new report, entitled “Equality and the UK asylum process”, considers the “equality impacts” of the policy as well as the “steps required to mitigate any unequal effects”.

The report reads: “We are deeply concerned that the Home Office’s case-by-case risk assessments prior to issuing notices of intent to remove potentially inadmissible asylum claimants to Rwanda appear to be inadequate”.

It adds: “We believe the risks of harm to children arising from the removal process outweigh any risks of damaging the intended deterrent effect of the Rwanda policy. The Government should abandon any intention of forcibly removing children to Rwanda”.

‘The Government should also set out how it intends to monitor and ensure that those removed to Rwanda do not suffer harm or experience discrimination in that country”.

Under the illegal migration bill, which continues its passage through parliament in the Lords on Wednesday and which is also considered by the report, arrivals on “small boats” would be detained within the first 28 days without bail or judicial review. The legislation would also place a legal duty on the government to deport almost anyone who arrives “irregularly” to the UK to their home country or a “safe” third country such as Rwanda. And it would introduce a cap on the number of refugees offered sanctuary through safe and legal routes.

On the bill, the equalities committee report reads: “We are deeply concerned that current and planned reforms in the Nationality and Borders Act and Illegal Migration Bill risk turning back the clock on policies intended to ensure detention is used only as a last resort, and to reduce the risks of harm to vulnerable people”.

The concerns raised by Ms Nokes and the women and equalities committee also follow warnings last week from a coalition of leading medical organisations.

Last week, more than 830 UK health professionals and representatives from leading medical bodies have signed a letter to the prime minister expressing “grave concerns” that the government’s flagship plan would cause “catastrophic mental and physical harm” to people seeking safety. 

They warned that child migrants who were detained could be at risk of post-traumatic stress disorder, clinical depression and suicidal behaviour.

Signatories to the letter included the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecologists.

Speaking this morning, Ms Nokes added that it is “worrying” the Home Office is saying “they can’t be certain that these figures [on the cost of the scheme] are accurate”.

She added that on the Rwanda plan, which is founded on being a deterrent to illegal, “to date, we’ve not seen it act as a deterrent.”