Channel migrants will be housed on barges to save £3½m on hotel bills

Illegal migrants could be housed on barges in a bid to slash the bill from putting people in hotels. The hotel cost reached £3.5billion last year, figures have revealed.

Arrivals into the country will stay in stationary vessels with basic beds, Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick is set to announce today.

Barges are commonly used in offshore construction and the oil industry. They are significantly cheaper than the four- or five-star hotels used to house people arriving on small boats.

Locals have voiced concern at reports that immigrants could be housed at two RAF bases in an attempt to move people out of hotels.

The move came as Rishi Sunak hinted that the timetable for deportation flights to Rwanda has slipped beyond summer.

The Prime Minister had previously suggested illegal migrants could be on planes within months and Home Office insiders last week said they were still “working towards” that.

But Mr Sunak yesterday pledged flights only “as soon as we can”.

He added: “No one has promised flights by the summer. What we have said is we will start flights as soon as we can after legal proceedings have completed.”

Mr Sunak defended new detention rules to tackle small boat crossings, insisting they cannot allow an exemption for children. He said: “It’s important that we don’t create a policy that incentivises people to bring children who wouldn’t otherwise come here.

“We don’t want to create a pull factor to make it more likely that children are making this very perilous journey in conditions that are appalling.” But he insisted youngsters “will not be separated from families” and will be housed “appropriately”.

The legislation being debated means asylum seekers may be detained indefinitely before removal to a “safe” country such as Rwanda. In a wide-ranging session of the Liaison Committee, Mr Sunak also urged Chinese leader Xi Jinping to help end the war in Ukraine by pressuring Russian President Vladimir Putin.

He told MPs: “It’s clear Russia is dependent on China and we would ask President Xi to use his influence with Putin to urge him to withdraw from Ukraine as a precondition to any negotiations”. But he lashed out at the credibility of a Chinese peace plan saying Mr Xi should speak directly to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Mr Sunak also dismissed fears about British weapons stocks being depleted by the war in Ukraine.

Almost a third of the £11.4billion foreign aid budget is spent supporting refugees and asylum seekers in the UK, an official watchdog has warned, writes Martyn Brown.

The Independent Commission for Aid Impact said such costs have surged to around £3.5billion.

The findings will heap pressure on the Government to tackle migrant small boats crossing the Channel and bear down on the backlog in asylum claims.

It also means the UK’s response to floods in Pakistan and drought in Somalia has been delayed.

Under international aid rules, the first-year costs of supporting refugees in a donor country can qualify as official development assistance.

The ICAI said while the rule has always been considered controversial, it has become a big problem in recent years.

Large-scale visa schemes for refugees from Ukraine and Afghanistan as well as the upsurge in Channel crossings made the bill soar last year.

With the overseas aid budget limited to 0.5 per cent of GDP, the ICAI said the UK’s ability to respond to international humanitarian emergencies has been “sharply curtailed”.

It warns the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has been forced to pause “non-essential” spending. And it added: “This was seen in the limited UK response both to devastating floods in Pakistan in August 2022, and to the worsening drought in the Horn of Africa, which is expected to lead to widespread famine in 2023.”

The ICAI said the shift in resources away from emergency response to supporting refugees in the UK represented a “significant loss” in the efficiency of aid spending.

Between October 2022 and March this year, the number of hotels used by the Home Office to house asylum seekers and refugees almost doubled from around 200 to 386. The ICAI said it had heard “a lot of anecdotal” evidence of safeguarding lapses in asylum hotels, particularly for women and girls, who face significant risks of harassment and violence.

Chair of the Commons international development committee, Sarah Champion, said: “Our valuable aid budget is being squandered as a result of Home Office failure to get on top of asylum application backlogs.

“Spending should promote and target the economic development and welfare of developing countries.”

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