Rwanda plan could encourage migrants to take more risks to enter UK

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People who undertook the crossing from France in small boats and were picked up in the Channel wait to be disembarked from a British Border Force vessel in Dover - AP
People who undertook the crossing from France in small boats and were picked up in the Channel wait to be disembarked from a British Border Force vessel in Dover - AP

Plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda could prompt Channel migrants to make more dangerous journeys, the Home Office’s top civil servant has said.

Matthew Rycroft, the Home Office’s permanent secretary, who has previously warned the policy may not provide value for money, told MPs the Rwanda scheme could lead to riskier Channel crossings to more remote locations or a return to attempts by people to stow away in lorries.

The Home Office’s attempt to charter the first flight to Rwanda under the policy - which would see asylum seekers “relocated” to the east African country - was thwarted last week after injunctions were granted for the 47 men due to be on it.

Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, has pledged to restart flights even before a judicial review determines its legality and is challenging the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) over its injunction by a lone late-night duty judge which forced the last seven migrants off the flight.

The Government’s plan to ship asylum seekers to Rwanda risks people embarking on “even more dangerous” routes to the UK, the Home Office’s most senior civil servant has said.

Asked at the Commons home affairs committee if there would be “behaviour changes” to more dangerous crossings or clandestine arrivals in lorries, Mr Rycroft said: “Absolutely. Yes, I think it’s really important to see this in the round.

“I do agree we should be thinking about irregular migration in general and all of the different routes, and it would be a pyrrhic victory if this set of policies were successful in closing down the small boat route, but created something even more dangerous.”

In April, Mr Rycroft issued a rare ministerial direction - where the Civil Service formally warns about a policy - in which he said its value for money depended on it being effective as a deterrent. That, he said, was “highly uncertain”.

On Wednesday he said he had not updated his assessment although there were signs the number of crossings was lower than the Home Office had projected. But he added: “It’s too early to say if that is because of the Rwanda policy or due to the weather.”

Former minister Tim Loughton, a Tory MP on the home affairs committee, said immigration officials had revealed male migrants were using unrelated children to appear as if they were part of a family, boosting their chances of avoiding being sent to Rwanda.

Record numbers of children are making the Channel crossing in small boats - AFP
Record numbers of children are making the Channel crossing in small boats - AFP
Charities believe that more children and women may have been encouraged to make the dangerous crossing in the belief that they will not be deported to Rwanda - PA
Charities believe that more children and women may have been encouraged to make the dangerous crossing in the belief that they will not be deported to Rwanda - PA

The policy has been targeted at young men but Mr Loughton cited two cases of such “subterfuge” - where a migrant claimed to be uncle to two children even though they spoke different languages and a young man, who claimed to be 17 but under “light interrogation” admitted he was 30.

“That is why it is important that the Government does not rule anyone out of eligibility for qualifying for removal to Rwanda apart from unaccompanied children,” he said.

The Telegraph revealed last week how record numbers of children are making the perilous Channel crossing in small boats.

Charities believe that more children and women may have been encouraged to make the dangerous 21-mile journey in the belief that they will not be deported to Rwanda, a policy that has been primarily targeted at young male migrants.

They include about 1,000 unaccompanied children who have crossed the Channel in the first five months of this year, a figure that was not reached until after nine months last year. There have been at least 100 already in June.

Mr Rycroft had earlier apologised if he appeared “overly flippant” when he said the Home Office loves “a good crisis”.

Asked if he could give examples of crisis that ended well in the department under his tenure as permanent secretary, he said: “First of all, apologies if that was an overly flippant form of words. What I was getting at was that the culture in the Home Office, I think, does respond very well to a crisis.”

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