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‘Asylum Seekers Could Make UK £1.2 Billion – Instead the Government is Spending That On Keeping them in Inhumane Conditions’

One solution to the UK’s economic and labour shortage problems is asylum seekers – if only the Government stopped to consider options other than sending them to Rwanda

The Bibby Stockholm asylum seeker immigration barge at Portland Port near Weymouth in Dorset. Photo: Graham Hunt/Alamy

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While political leaders sound the rallying call of economic growth being the solution to Britain’s problems, an opportunity that could generate more than a billion pounds has been revealed but largely ignored.

In March, a report by the Commission on the Integration of Refugees (CIR) found Britain’s coffers could be boosted by £1.2 billion within five years if refugees were properly integrated and granted the right to work.

But rather than supporting the valuable contribution asylum seekers could make to the UK – through plugging the country’s labour shortages and paying taxes – the Government is spending the same amount, the National Audit Office revealed, on holding them in remote camps, barracks and barges.

For the same amount of money – roughly the GDP of Grenada42,000 nurses could be hired.

As the CIR findings were published, Sky News revealed that the Government’s Rwanda policy – aimed at deterring people from crossing the English Channel in small boats – could cost half a billion pounds, plus hundreds of thousands more, for each asylum seeker deported.

The scheme – which the Supreme Court ruled was unlawful in November 2023 – hit further delays this week after Lords refused to back changes, leading to Rishi Sunak confirming that plans had been dropped to get the first flights off the ground by the end of spring. There were also reports that RAF planes may have to be used as commercial airlines do not want to be involved with the scheme.

 Three migrants rescued at sea during a Channel crossing to the UK in Calais in November 2022. Photo: Andia/Alamy

It is well understood in the migration sector that people who have been forcibly displaced
from their homes, and who have made perilous journeys to the UK, are desperate to get on with rebuilding their lives and contributing to the British economy.

It appears to be a political choice to deny them that opportunity.

Under the current rules, people seeking safety in the UK must wait a year before asking for
permission to work. In the meantime, they are kept on a poverty packet of asylum support – just £1.25 a day for those in hotels.

The mental health impact of surviving in poverty is stark, with enforced inactivity also meaning that people are less likely to contribute, as they might have done, once granted settled status.

Currently, even if permission to work is granted after 12 months – which is not
guaranteed – people awaiting a decision on their asylum claim are limited to jobs on the
Government’s ‘shortage occupation list’. This includes specialist roles such as “skilled
classical ballet dancers and choreographers”, “medical radiographers”, and “geo-physicists”.
How many of us would find work in another country if these were the options?

Rwanda ‘Cash for Humans’ Flights Leave Asylum Seekers ‘Terrified’

Asylum seekers are “living in limbo” in the UK, worried they could be put on a plane at any moment, as the controversial scheme returns to the House of Commons on Monday

The UK is an outlier in this area. No other European country has such a restrictive waiting
period for working. Nor do Canada, the United States, or Australia.

In Canada, asylum seekers can work from the day they arrive. In Germany, they must wait three months. In Ireland, five. In Spain, six. These countries also do not limit asylum seekers to a small list of jobs.

There are clear labour shortages in the UK in the social care sector, hospitality,
accommodation, and food services. According to the ONS, nearly a
third of UK businesses are experiencing labour shortages post-COVID lockdowns.

The restrictiveness of the shortages list therefore seems arbitrary.

Scrapping the shortage occupation list and changing the current restrictions on asylum seekers working would give people a chance to integrate into communities and rebuild their lives in dignity.

It would allow people to make the most of their skills and potential, and live
sustainably and self-sufficiently.

It would improve the mental health of those in the asylum system, and help challenge forced labour, exploitation, and modern slavery.

It would deliver significant savings to the taxpayer and generate substantial growth to the UK economy.

It is even popular with the electorate. According to a report by the Lift the Ban campaign, 71% of the public believe that people seeking asylum should be allowed to work.

Setting the Record Straight on Rwanda’s Asylum System

The issue is not about physical infrastructure but the quality of legal provision, practical assistance and the conditions facing refugees in Rwanda, writes Brad Blitz

But this all requires a political choice and, currently, the Government believes spending money on housing asylum seekers in camps cut off from our communities is a better option than helping them to help the UK.

As refugee charities have been warning for months, these large-scale campsites are not
only inhumane, but they are more expensive than the alternatives – hotels or dispersal accommodation – and the Government has “incurred losses and increased risk” in pursuing them.

The NAO found that hotel accommodation – which comes with its own plethora of harmful outcomes – cost £46 million less.

Damning reports by the since-sacked Independent Chief Inspector for Borders and
, as well as third-sector organisations, have demonstrated the real and lasting harm sites such as the Bibby Stockholm and RAF Wethersfield are causing to people contained there. And now we learn they are not even delivering the cost-savings promised.


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Albanian asylum seeker Leonard Farraku was found dead on the Bibby Stockholm barge in December 2023. According to refugee charities, many others at Wethersfield – another site housing asylum seekers – have attempted to take their lives. This policy is costing lives, as well as taxpayers.T

This is the stark reality: that this approach is not about cost efficiencies – it is a political choice, which comes at a devastating human cost to refugees fleeing persecution, at an eye-watering economic cost to the taxpayer.

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