The Rwanda plan: is it really worth it?

By: Elliot Keck, head of campaigns


So, the Rwanda bill has passed. Two years on from the scheme being announced, we’re finally going to see flights take off. Taxpayers will get to see whether a key plank of the government’s plan to tackle illegal immigration will actually work. 


The left’s arguments against the plan have been tepid at best, and deeply disingenuous at worst. Take the argument made, for example, by Care4Calais that "They are some of the most vulnerable people in the world, having lost family members in bloody conflicts, suffered horrific torture and inhumane persecution.” 


This is very emotive language, but not entirely based on the facts. From 2018 to September 2023, 86 per cent were male and 68 per cent were between the ages of 18 and 39. When broken down by nationality, a quarter of those who arrived in 2022 came from countries considered tourist destinations for many Brits. These include Turkey, Vietnam, India, Albania, Egypt, Georgia and Sri Lanka. For those that did originally come from countries that do fit the description, such as Afghanistan, Eritrea and Syria, to reach the shores of the UK would have required passage through multiple safe, prosperous European countries. Most of these will be signed up to the Dublin Regulation, under which the state responsible for examining an asylum application is “normally the State where the asylum seeker first entered the EU.”


They are mostly young men, many from safe (albeit not wealthy) countries, and the journey that they take across the Channel begins in France, one of the world’s most prosperous countries. The failure to acknowledge this is a bizarre spectacle. Why refuse to acknowledge such an obvious reality other than because you’re aware it seriously undermines your argument?


The more sensible line of argument has been that it simply won’t work. That’s always been the line taken by the Labour front bench. But having made this argument, it seems like bad politics to fight it tooth and nail at every stage. Surely you want it to be proven beyond doubt to the public, which is generally supportive of the scheme, that it won’t work? The only way to do this is to give it a shot.


But the really strong argument, also made by the Labour front bench, is just how expensive it is. And, while much of the opposition to the scheme has been confused, the arguments in favour of it have been equally unconvincing. Ministers have been excruciatingly vague on the number of flights and the number of people they expect will be deported as a result of this scheme. A best-case scenario of 2,000 within the first six months has been touted. But given a best-case scenario of 2,000 in six months, will it really act as a deterrent? More than 2,000 migrants crossed the channel in March 2024 alone. And if it isn’t a deterrent, is it worth the money?


That’s now going to be the crucial test for the government. The costs, as revealed in a National Audit Office report, are astronomical. Under the scheme, the Home Office is making, or will make, two types of payments to the government of Rwanda. These are, to quote from the report:


  • Payments to the Economic Transformation and Integration Fund (ETIF), which is designed to support economic growth in Rwanda; and 
  • Payments to cover asylum processing and operational costs for individuals relocated to Rwanda. The Home Office has agreed to pay a five-year integration package for each relocated person, which covers accommodation, essential items such as food, medical services, education and other integration programmes. 


With the partnership scheduled to end in March 2028, we would be making payments until March 2033. All told, the first 300 migrants will cost £541 million to deport to the African country, a cost of £1.8 million per migrant. Staggering figures. And with James Cleverly telling journalists yesterday that the scheme would continue indefinitely, value for money must be front and centre when it comes to reviewing the policy in future years. Because while a fair chunk of the costs are one-off, upfront payments, the cost to deport a migrant under this scheme after the first 300 will still be £181,000 per person deported, including £20,000 into ETIF, £151,000 relocation costs and £11,000 in flight costs. 


Of course, this can’t be viewed in terms of an opportunity cost. It’s not a simple case of scrapping the Rwanda scheme and spending it on something else. While they’re waiting for claims to be processed, and for those that aren’t deported to Rwanda once the scheme gets off the ground, migrants arriving on our shores have to be housed, almost always at a cost to taxpayers.

In September of last year, it was revealed that the daily cost of housing migrants in hotels alone was £8 million a day, or £3 billion annually. But this was for 50,546 migrants, meaning a cost of £57,769 per migrant per year. This poses unacceptable pressure on UK hotels and has a significant impact on local communities. But in terms of pressure on taxpayers, it looks relatively cheap compared to Rwanda. Over £120,000 cheaper per migrant, although this doesn’t include costs of subsistence or deportation if an asylum application fails.


A full review of the cost of each option available to ministers would require a much longer blog. But what’s crystal clear is that Rwanda is far from the budget option. Many would argue that what matters is what works, regardless of cost. Border control and security are fundamental to the functioning of a nation-state. So foundational even as a core responsibility that everyone expects from the government that the focus should be on the solution, not the expense. That’s fine. But that will require crystal clear evidence that it is a solution, and not just a gimmick from a government determined to appear like it’s gripped the problem.

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