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Speaking to the Home Affairs Select Committee, permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft acknowledged that the controversial plan could lead to riskier Channel crossings being attempted or a return to more attempts by people to stowaway in lorries.
The Home Office’s attempt to charter the first flight to Rwanda under the policy - which is set to 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.
But Priti Patel has vowed to push ahead with the plan, saying last week that preparations for future flights and the next flights had “already begun”.
During the committee hearing on Wednesday, SNP MP Stuart McDonald asked Mr Rycroft: “Do you factor in the possibility that in actual fact behaviour changes, so more dangerous crossings are attempted or there’s a move back to clandestine arrivals in the back of lorries, for example?”
In response, Mr Rycroft said: “Absolutely. Yes, I think it’s really important to see this in the round and thank you for the opportunity to agree with you on that. I do agree that 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. That would not be a victory at all, so we need to make sure we’re thinking about this in the round."
Mr Rycroft warned Priti Patel in April that the evidence behind the policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda in order to deter people making the hazardous Channel crossing was “highly uncertain”.
He said in a letter to the home secretary, sent just two days before the initial £120m deal with Rwanda was unveiled: “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.”
During the evidence session on Wednesday, Mr Rycroft said he hadn’t updated his assessment of the policy since the letter and that he was keeping it under review, adding: ”The whole policy hinges on the amount of deterrence that it does.
“This is about prevention. The policy will be a success if there are fewer crossings than there would have been. It is too early to tell whether the number of crossings is significantly enough lower than it would have been, but that is what we are keeping under constant review.”
Last week was the busiest week for Channel crossings since April, with some 1,512 people brought to shore after being intercepted in the water.
The permanent secretary was unable to provide details to MPs on asylum seekers’ access to legal advice during the seven day notice period they are given before potential removal to Rwanda, nor the policy for providing translated documents to them to ensure people understand.