Government plans to deport people seeking sanctuary in Britain to Rwanda are expensive, unworkable, unethical and will do nothing to stop the people smugglers says Action Foundation CEO, Duncan McAuley

Just imagine for a moment that, as we watched television reports of Ukrainian refugees fleeing for their lives from bombed-out Mariupol, our country’s response was to arrange for them one-way flights to Rwanda.

Can you imagine the public outcry? Yet somehow, our Government deems it OK to suggest that young men coming from other parts of the world can be shipped off to Africa to have their detention claims decided and, if successful, they will not be offered refugee status in the UK but will be ‘allowed’ to stay in Rwanda, no matter that they wanted to make their future here.

Human rights

Rwanda’s record on human rights is something the Government themselves have questioned very recently. Within the past year they have raised concerns about the Rwandan authorities’ failure to investigate torture allegations and deaths in custody, as well as the protection and support of victims of trafficking.* The charity Rainbow Migration has also warned that the country has no legal protection in place for LGBT+ people. They point out it is even a source country for some people seeking sanctuary in the UK on grounds of their sexual orientation.

Furthermore, similar ‘offshoring’ by the Australian government in Papua New Guinea and Nauru was internationally condemned for resulting in the cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of refugees. In total, 13 people sent to Nauru and Papua New Guinea have died from violence, medical inattention or suicide.*

It is without doubt a cruel, expensive and ill-thought-through plan and it is unsurprising that the head official at the Home Office has refused to sign off the policy on grounds of cost-effectiveness.

It’s been claimed the £1.4bn a year plan will deter people from making the dangerous Channel crossing and ‘disrupt the business model’ of people smugglers.

Yet even the Home Office’s senior civil servant, Matthew Rycroft, says there is no evidence for this. In a letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel he wrote: “Value for money of the policy is dependent on it being effective as a deterrent. Evidence of a deterrent effect is highly uncertain and cannot be quantified with sufficient certainty to provide me with the necessary level of assurance over value for money.”


Rather than squandering millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on this unworkable plan, we should be investing in multi-lateral work, not with remote countries like Rwanda, but through effective bilateral agreements with France and other EU neighbours. If there is money available, it would be far better spent on developing safe routes to the UK, for example by introducing humanitarian visas.

The people clambering aboard small boats off Calais are not so dissimilar from those we see boarding trains from Ukraine to Poland – they are all trying to reach a place of safety and security. Indeed, the Government’s own data shows that two thirds of men, women and children arriving in small boats across the Channel come from countries where war and persecution have made them flee their homes.

As a compassionate nation we should respond in the same spirit with which we signed up to the United Nations Refugee Convention in 1951. We must continue to resist any attempt to criminalise people according to how they come to Britain. That means continuing to oppose the Nationality and Borders Bill which is returning to the Lords now in the final stages of ‘ping-pong’ between the Upper House and the Commons as we approach the end of the year’s parliamentary session in May.

We have been calling for two changes – to scrap clause 11 which would mean punishing refugees who have been forced to make desperate journeys either by boat across the Channel or in the back of a lorry. We also want to see an annual target set for how many refugees the UK will resettle. We are calling for that target to be at least 10,000 refugees from all countries every year.

If you haven’t already written to your MP asking that they back the amendments, please do think about doing so. More information is available here.

We are also signatories to this open letter to the Prime Minister and Home Secretary.


2: BBC online – Which other countries send asylum seekers overseas?