A new bill intended to crack down on migrants entering the UK is making its way through parliament. If it becomes law, the Refugee Council warns it could cost over €10 billion for accommodation alone.
The UK government's 'Illegal Migration Bill', aimed at cracking down on immigration, has had its second reading in parliament and could be passed later this year.
Normally, the government would be expected to publish its own assessment and estimate of costs for a bill, so that parliament can consider it before voting on it further. As yet, no detailed assessment has been published.
Also read: Britain's 'illegal immigration bill' makes progress through parliament
However, on March 22, the UK’s Refugee Council published its assessment of costs based on available data related to migration and detention costs. According to its assessment, over the next three years, the proposed legislation could cost the government over €10 billion just for accommodation.
Held in detention
The Refugee Council says its analysis was carried out by policy experts using conservative estimates based on existing data.
It claims that under the government's proposals more than 190,000 people could be "locked up or forced into destitution." It also says as many as 45,000 children could be detained under the proposed law.
The costs of the proposed practice of keeping asylum seekers detained and preventing them from working to support themselves would run to billions, the Refugee Council says.
The analysis was worked out on the basis that the government would be able to fly 30,000 asylum seekers to Rwanda.
Britain’s Home Secretary Suella Braverman has promised Rwanda more money, on top of the initial €138 million, so that the scheme is operational by the summer. But the UK has not managed to fly any asylum seekers to the African country as yet. The first flights were stopped by an injunction issued by the European Court of Human Rights. In December, the UK High Court found the policy to be lawful overall, but it continues to be held up by legal challenges.
According to the Refugee Council, under the proposed legislation, most people to be detained would come from Eritrea, Sudan, Syria and Iran; all countries whose nationals currently enjoy positive asylum decision rates well above 80% in the UK. However, many of these people would have their asylum claims denied on the basis that they had come through at least one, if not several, countries where they could have applied for asylum before leaving the French coasts for the UK.
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The Refugee Council also points out that people coming from these countries currently have "increasingly limited safe routes to use to apply to reach the UK." Although there is a safe route for some of those coming from Afghanistan, the Refugee Council states it is "not working – with only 22 people who fled the country having been resettled in 2022."
Refugee resettlement from UNHCR refugee camps, for instance those housing Syrians in Lebanon or Jordan, "is currently 75% lower than the pre-COVID level in 2019." According to the Refugee Council, "refugee family reunion visas are 40% down."
Enver Solomon, the CEO of the Refugee Council, stated in a press release that "all the evidence shows that the vast majority of those who come here by so-called irregular routes are refugees escaping bombs and bullets, violence and persecution."
'No safe routes'
Solomon added that for most people who undertake a dangerous journey such as crossing the Channel in a small boat, "no workable alternatives exist for them." The Refugee Council has long been calling for the UK to introduce a similar scheme to that offered to Ukrainians to all those fleeing war, violence and persecution.
According to the Refugee Council, the new legislation would result in most people’s asylum claims being inadmissible, and they would be detained on arrival in the UK for an average of 28 days. There are currently not enough detention centers or even migration reception centers to accommodate asylum seekers at the current rates of arrival, let alone the potential 225,347-257,101 people expected to be put into detention over the first three years after the law comes into force.
The Refugee Council estimates that it could cost the British government about €272,000 to create one extra detention bed, based on the costs of refurbishing two detention centers, Campsfield House and Haslar, which cost over €100 million and €160 million respectively. "Using the lower end estimates, this means it will cost €272 million to add 1,000 beds of detention capacity."
Extra detention beds needed?
Although the Refugee Council says the Home Office has not published an exact assessment of the current detention estate, they believe the country will need more than 10,000 extra detention beds over the next three years.
That figure, according to the Refugee Council, "includes between 39,500 and 45,600 children." It adds that by the end of the third year "between 161,147 and 192,670 people will have had their asylum claims deemed inadmissible but not have been removed." Costs to detain children would be even higher, the Refugee Council says.
Currently, the bill does not propose expanding safe or legal routes available to those hoping to make a legitimate asylum claim in the UK.
Current asylum costs 'regretful', says Braverman
Talking to the GB News Channel while in Rwanda, Braverman reiterated her belief that her Rwanda Policy and the Illegal Migration Bill would make clear to migrants attempting to enter the UK by small boat, which the government deems an illegal entry, "that you will be detained, and you will be swiftly removed."
Braverman said she believed that "robustness of our legal policies in the UK, combined with compassion [by sending those with asylum claims to Rwanda] is the way to solve this problem."
Also read: UK Minister visits Rwanda to reinforce migration outsourcing plans
During the interview, Braverman said that she found it "regretful" that the UK was currently spending "€6.8 million a day" to house those seeking asylum in the UK. She also regretted that "45,000 people arrived illegally in the UK last year [across the Channel]" and that the government had spent "some €3.4 billion last year to service our asylum needs."
'Policy will be modelled by other countries'
Braverman omitted to say that a proportion of the costs of housing asylum seekers was also allocated to those who entered the country on special schemes such as the evacuation of Afghans out of Kabul and neighboring countries following the Taliban takeover Afghanistan in August 2021.
It was also not clear whether the €3.4 billion last year for asylum included the costs of housing migrants in hotels. However on a rough calculation, at the current rate, hotel costs for the next three years would add up to about €6.1 billion over the whole period, less than the estimated costs of the new policy, according to the UK's Refugee Council.
Braverman ended her interview saying she believes the policy will work. "I have huge confidence in this partnership, I have huge confidence in Rwanda, and I do believe this policy will be modelled by other countries in due course."
Since the beginning of the year, more than 3,000 migrants have reached the UK via the Channel. Over the last weekend, the French authorities said they saved more than 190 who got into difficulty in French waters.