UK considered using Iraq to process asylum seekers in Rwanda-type deal, leaked documents show

The government at one point considered using Iraq to process asylum seekers in a Rwanda-style scheme, according to documents seen by Sky News.

This could have seen people sent from the UK to a country the government advises against all travel to.

The two countries already have a returns agreement - but only for people who are from Iraq.

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According to leaked correspondence between high-ranking officials, the Iraqi returns commitments were made with a "request for discretion" and no publicity.

The country was willing to move forward but did not want a formal or public agreement.

The current travel advice to Iraq on the Foreign Office website simply advises against "all travel to parts of Iraq". However, according to the document, negotiations were fairly advanced and described in one table as "good recent progress with Iraq".

Other government aims included enhancing cooperation with the Iranian Embassy in order to enhance returns arrangements for migrants and potential asylum seekers.

Returns agreements are also in the works for Eritrea and Ethiopia, according to documents about work undertaken by the Home Office and Foreign Office that relates to countries with the highest number of nationals arriving to the UK by small boats.

In a tranche of internal government documents seen by Sky News, even from the earliest stage of the Rwanda policy, Downing Street advisers knew there were serious problems with their proposals.

There are even private admissions that many people arriving here on small boats did so without the assistance of criminal gangs - despite their communications strategy.

Comparisons were also made to Australia's response - to what Downing Street officials understood to be a comparable "smaller problem" than in the UK and admitted it had cost billions of Australian dollars in order for their returns processes to be fully operational.

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In one document submitted to the Home Office, some of the highest-ranking officials at the time wrote that their guidance was to be "prepared to pay over the odds" to get the policy up and running. And that the initial offer from Rwanda was a "modest sum".

Whitehall's official spending watchdog has priced the cost of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda at £1.8m per person for the first 300 people the government deports to Kigali.

It also disclosed that since April 2022 the Home Office has paid £220m into Rwanda's economic transformation and integration fund, which is designed to support economic growth in Rwanda, and will continue to make payments to cover asylum processing and operational costs for individuals relocated to Rwanda.

It will also pay further amounts of £50m over the next year and an additional £50m the following year.

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A government source said: "The Home Office is spending millions every day accommodating migrants in hotels - that's not right or fair. We're taking action to put an end to this costly and dangerous cycle. Doing nothing is not a free option - we must act if we want to stop the boats and save lives.

"The UK is continuing to work with a range of international partners to tackle global illegal migration challenges. Our Rwanda partnership is a pioneering response to the global challenge of illegal migration, and we will get flights off the ground to Rwanda in the next nine to eleven weeks."