A Cabinet minister has accused migrants making perilous journeys across the Channel of “choosing to be putting their lives at risk and be exploited by criminals”.
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi spoke to Sky News’ Kay Burley as he sought to defend the government’s plan to send people who arrive via illegal routes to the UK to Rwanda.
The policy has been condemned by refugee charities and provoked a spat with the Church of England after the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said it was “opposite the nature of God”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has previously characterised the move as an attempt to deter those who seek to “queue jump”.
Mr Zahawi defended the policy when it was put to him that his own family background as a refugee might have seen him sent to Rwanda and stay there even if he succeeded in applying for asylum.
He said “My parents fled a dictator from Iraq, landed in the first safe country which is Britain, and made their life here.
“We came through a legal route and applied for immigration status and got that.
“These people, who are being exploited by criminals, are coming from a safe country called France.
“They are already in a safe country, they are choosing to be putting their lives at risk and be exploited by criminals.
“Those illegal crossings also mean capacity’s being taken away from people who may not be able to make those illegal crossings, who are legitimate asylum seekers that we need to look after and we’ve got a great track record in doing that.”
In November last year, 27 people died near Calais while trying to cross the Channel.
Mr Johnson said at the time that he was “shocked, appalled and deeply saddened”.
The government said at the time of the launch of the Rwanda policy last week that as many as 600 people a day had been making the journey and that the number could soon again reach 1,000.