Fewer than 200 people who came to the UK without permission would have been sent to Rwanda last year, analysis of government figures has found.
The Refugee Council said 172 people could have been sent to the East African country if an agreement had been in place. It estimates that the number is unlikely to be much higher this year.
The figures cast doubt on Boris Johnson’s claim that “tens of thousands” of people who have arrived in the UK without permission can get a single ticket to Rwanda.
Persons eligible for relocation to Rwanda will be those found to be “unacceptable” under the rules of the British asylum system. The rules, introduced in January 2021, apply to those who arrived in the UK via another “safe” country, such as France, and therefore their asylum application is considered their responsibility.
So far, only 2% of the people covered by the rules have ultimately served with decisions classifying them as unacceptable, according to figures from the Ministry of the Interior, which have been excavated by the Refugee Council.
Out of the 8,593 people assessed under the rules of the Home Office last year, only 172 would be considered unacceptable according to the analysis.
Johnson claimed this month that he expected many people to be flown 4,500 miles to Rwanda. “The agreement we have reached is unlimited and Rwanda will have the capacity to resettle tens of thousands of people in the coming years,” he said.
The government’s plans to punish people who have been forced to go on an irregular trip to Britain could lead to thousands of people seeking asylum being convicted and imprisoned.
Under the Nationality and Borders Act, which is in its final stages of parliament, the analysis suggests that 19,288 people could be convicted and imprisoned each year for arriving in the UK via an irregular route.
The proposal has been widely condemned as inhuman, illegal, unusable and prohibitively expensive. Critics have included Tory MPs and peers, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Archbishop of Canterbury, who said in his Easter Sunday sermon that the scheme “does not stand the judgment of God”.
Enver Solomon, executive director of the Refugee Council, said: “This analysis shows the real impact this law will have on desperate men, women and children who are simply trying to find safety when fleeing the dangers of war and persecution.
“Punishing people, treating them as criminal and human charges to be deported to Rwanda is not only inhuman, cruel and ugly, but it will do nothing to address the reasons why people go on dangerous journeys to find safety. “It will not do much to deter them from coming to this country, but will only lead to more human suffering and chaos – to a huge potential expense of almost a billion pounds every year.”
The bill, if enacted into law, would create a new criminal act that would apply to all those who are intercepted in the channel without prior permission to enter the UK. Persons prosecuted under the new law could face up to four years in prison.
The Norwegian Refugee Council has used figures from the Ministry of the Interior and the prosecution to estimate that up to 19,288 could be convicted and imprisoned each year during the changes. It has estimated that the cost of prosecuting and imprisoning them could reach £ 835 million a year.
The estimate is based on the number of people who crossed the Channel last year, the assumption that the government would try to prosecute anyone who arrives illegally, and a conviction rate of 69% over the last five years for similar offenses in current law.
A Home Office spokesman said: “This world-leading partnership for migration and economic development will revise our shattered asylum system, which currently costs the British taxpayer £ 1.5bn a year – the highest amount in two decades.
“Under this agreement, Rwanda will process claims in accordance with national and international human rights laws. This means that those who arrive dangerously, illegally or unnecessarily can be relocated to have their asylum applications processed and, if they are recognized as refugees, can they build their lives there.
“We do not recognize the figures from this analysis. The agreement is unlimited in terms of the number of people that can be sent to Rwanda.”