Home Secretary Priti Patel has defended her policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda as their application to seek refuge on the UK is considered.
Ms Patel said the new policy will help to give access to the UK “based on need, not on the ability to pay people smugglers”.
The new asylum seeker policy has been controversial since it was announced by Ms Patel last week, with political opponents questioning the cost of the policy to the UK and branding it “cruel”.
What did Priti Patel say about the Rwanda asylum seeker policy?
Addressing the House of Commons she said: “We cannot sustain a parallel illegal system. Our compassion may be infinite, but our capacity to help people is not. But this is why the new plan for immigration and its legislative vehicle the Nationality and Borders Bill are so vital….
“At the heart of this Government’s approach is a simple principle: fairness. Access to the UK’s asylum system should be based on need, not on the ability to pay people smugglers.”
Ms Patel also told MPs that the current Tory government has “done more than any other in recent history to support those fleeing persecution, conflict or instability”.
She added: “We cannot focus our support on those who need it most or effectively control our borders without tackling illegal migration which is facilitated by people smugglers.”
“In recent years alone we have welcomed more than 185,000 people through safe and legal routes… In addition we have welcomed more than 40,000 people in recent years through our refugee family reunion routes.
“Serious organised criminals that profit from human misery, who do not care about people drowning in the Channel or suffocating in the back of containers.”
She went on: “This type of illegal migration puts unsustainable pressures on our public services and local communities. Every day the broken asylum system costs the taxpayer almost £5 million in hotel accommodation alone. The cost of the asylum system is the highest in over two decades at over £1.5 billion.”
The Home Secretary also accused opponents of the policy of speaking of the country of Rwanda in a “xenophobic”.
Ms Patel said: “I think if I can refer to some of the undercurrents of the tone that has been used not just in this House today, but more broadly, around our partnership with Rwanda… Now, I could go as far to say that some of this is quite xenophobic.
“Rwanda is one of the fastest growing countries in Africa. We have an incredible partnership with them. They will be host of the Commonwealth Heads of Government later on this year, and they are leading the way on the international stage on many, many international issues. And I actually think it is pretty distasteful. It says a great deal about members on the opposite benches, about their understanding of global Britain internationalism.”
What has been reaction to the UK’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda?
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper lambasted Ms Patel for her policy, claiming that decision-making within the Home Office had “totally collapsed”.
She said: “She says we are going to save money on hotels, but the only reason we are paying a fortune in hotel costs, it’s because the Home Office decision-making has totally collapsed.
“On her watch, Home Office are only taking 14,000 initial asylum decisions a year. That is half what they were doing five years ago. Half. Taking fewer decisions than Belgium, Netherlands, Austria, never mind France and Germany.
“So, the costs of the UK taxpayer have soared by hundreds of millions of pounds because she isn’t capable of taking the basic asylum decisions. And because she’s not capable of taking those decisions, she is trying to pay Rwanda to take those decisions instead.”
Not only did Labour and other political opponents speak against the policy, but MP and former Prime Minister Theresa May also criticised the decision to send asylum seekers to Rwanda while their application is being considered.
She said: “Can I say with respect to my right honourable friend that from what I have heard and seen so far of this policy, I do not support the removal to Rwanda policy on the grounds of legality, practicality and efficacy.”
SNP home affairs spokesman Stewart McDonald called the scheme “cruel and catastrophic”, adding: “It will not hurt smugglers but will further seriously harm people who have fled persecution.”