OPINION: Why I support the Government's Rwanda asylum plan

Migrants brought in to Dover

Young children among a group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, following a small boat incident in the Channel. Boris Johnson has put the Navy in command of the English Channel, as he defended plans to send some asylum seekers who make the crossing in small boats to Rwanda. - Credit: PA

I was very pleased to watch the Prime Minister’s speech yesterday on the Kent coast about the Government’s plans to tackle illegal immigration.

Since we left the European Union, we’ve introduced a new ‘points-based’ immigration system for legal migration, but there is a way to go before we can say conclusively that we’ve fully taken control of illegal immigration and our asylum system.

For me there is a clear and important distinction that must be made between genuine refugees who are fleeing from violence and persecution, and those who are entering our country illegally from another safe European country (France).

Every person who arrives here illegally and stays, places pressure on public services, and by doing so, skips the queue ahead of genuine refugees following the correct legal process for claiming asylum. 

There is nothing compassionate about turning a blind eye to these dangerous crossings where people have already lost their lives as part of an evil trade in human lives. We’ve got to destroy the business model of people traffickers. It’s for all these reasons that I welcome the Government’s plans for offshore processing in Rwanda.

Rwanda is a safe country and will enable the individuals in question to build new lives. The UN and the EU already settle refugees in this country.

Some have attacked the cost of this offshore approach, but the reality will be that if pursued effectively, it will likely provide an effective deterrent that will mean that the number of people attempting unsafe, illegal crossings will most likely dwindle. As has been the case in Australia.

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They had a significant issue with illegal immigration until they embraced offshore processing. Today, Australia doesn’t have the same issue with illegal immigration.

Home Secretary Priti Patel and Rwandan minister for foreign affairs and international co-pperation,

Home Secretary Priti Patel and Rwandan minister for foreign affairs and international co-pperation, Vincent Biruta, signed a "world-first" migration and economic development partnership in the East African nation's capital city Kigali, on Thursday. - Credit: PA

The message has clearly gone out that it’s pointless trying to enter Australia illegally because you’ll never be able to stay. We need a similar message to be sent out to those contemplating illegal entry into our own country.

If anyone doubts the scale of the problem they only need to look at the numbers. In 2018 the number of people arriving in the UK via this route was 299, in 2019 it was 1,843, in 2020 it was 8,466 and last year it was 28,527.

The indications are that this year we could get close to 50,000. Clearly, this is a completely unsustainable situation and it’s hardly surprising that this is such a concern for so many of my constituents.

As it stands many of the individuals in question are being accommodated in hotels. How is it cost-effective for the taxpayer to be paying for tens of thousands of people in hotels, potentially on an ongoing basis?

It’s incredibly difficult to run generous legal refugee schemes when we have this parallel illegal route growing and fuelled to unsustainable levels. It would clearly put unprecedented pressure on our public services.

Since 2015 our country has welcomed approximately 185,000 genuine refugees. These individuals have come to our country directly from the areas they’re being persecuted, or from areas close by. We had a generous Syrian scheme, Afghan scheme, Hong Kong scheme and now for the people fleeing the current war in Ukraine. I’m proud of the role we’ve played and continue to play.

I was very pleased to hear today that the Royal Navy is taking over the responsibility of UK Border Force in greeting those who arrive here via the small boat route, that hotel accommodation will be ended, and that we will start transferring many who arrive to a safe third country.

Of course the Labour Party oppose these plans. Just like they continue to oppose the Nationality and Borders Bill. They claim they oppose what was announced today because apparently it’s unworkable, too costly and unethical.

The reality is that they criticise it because they oppose all moves towards immigration control and are instinctively a pro-open borders Party. It’s a shame they can’t just be honest and say this. We all know it. They’re not fooling anyone.

The Government have attempted on numerous occasions to secure return agreements with France but to no avail. And to be perfectly honest I would rather our ability to control our own borders wasn’t completely dependent on the willingness of French politicians to cooperate. We’ve seen repeatedly how difficult this can be.

It’s taken a long time to get to where we are, but I’m pleased the Government have now firmly grasped the issue and come up with a plan that will be welcomed by many of my constituents.

When it comes to legal immigration, we need to continue to welcome the brightest and the best and when it comes to asylum, we must continue to be big-hearted towards those fleeing persecution.

But the key issue here, that is of concern to millions of people up and down the country, is “control". I support the Government in its attempts to get control of our asylum system in the same way it’s done with legal immigration in this country.

- Tom Hunt is the Conservative MP for Ipswich.