UK plan for asylum seekers is not deterring boat crossings, say MPs

There is no clear evidence that the UK’s plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda are deterring people from making hazardous journeys to Britain in boats on the English Channel, according to a new report by MPs.

The numbers coming across the Channel have increased significantly since home secretary Priti Patel in April announced a deal with the Rwandan government to take asylum seekers who reached Britain, said the report by the cross-party House of Commons home affairs committee.

Patel hopes that deporting people to Rwanda who enter the UK by irregular means will, alongside other efforts to crack down on migration, break the business model of trafficking gangs by acting as a deterrent to those arriving in dinghies.

But the report by the home affairs committee said there was “no clear evidence” that Patel’s policy “will deter migrant crossings — numbers have increased significantly since April”.

One possible explanation for a recent surge in numbers was scaremongering by people smugglers claiming that it will be harder to reach the UK in the future so better to hurry over now, added the report.

About 28,500 people arrived in the UK in 2021 via the English Channel and 14,000 have come so far in 2022, with the total expected to be 60,000 by the end of the year.

Dame Diana Johnson, Labor chair of the home affairs committee, said there was “no quick-fix solution” to the problem.

She added: “Despite much sabre-rattling that people should claim asylum in the first safe country they arrive in, the government has made slow progress in setting up deals with international partners to facilitate returns. Its deterrent policy of sending asylum applicants to Rwanda appears to have gone unnoticed by those who attempt to cross the Channel.”

The home affairs committee report said at least 166 people had died or gone missing in the Channel since 2014.

Patel’s Rwanda scheme was brought to a dramatic — if temporary — halt last month when a string of legal challenges that went all the way to the European Court of Human Rights grounded the first of many planned removal flights.

A judicial review into the legality of the plan was originally scheduled for this month but has been delayed until September to allow time for a coalition of refugee and human rights groups, and trade unionists, to prepare their objections.

The home affairs committee said there was no clear information yet on the cost of the plan — in April the UK stated it would provide £120mn in development assistance to Rwanda as part of a migration partnership.

The report said there was “no magical single solution” to irregular migration but recommended that “evidence-driven, properly costed and fully tested policy initiatives are by far most likely to achieve sustainable incremental change that deters journeys such as dangerous Channel crossings”.

Among these, the UK should be prioritizing close collaboration with the French authorities in disrupting trafficking gangs, it added.

The report also recommended the British government enter into discussion with its French counterpart on providing UK asylum assessment facilities within France.

The government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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