Immigration minister Robert Jenrick has defended plans to make asylum seekers share hotel rooms in a bid to cut costs. 

The comments came as the BBC reported that the Home Office estimates it will have to spend between £3 billion and £6 billion on detention facilities, accommodation costs and removals under Rishi Sunak’s plans to tackle small boat crossings.

Mr Jenrick said a lot of progress had been made, but that the asylum system needed to be changed “fundamentally”.

According to refugee charities, there are around 170,000 people still waiting to be processed.

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The minister told the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme: “The asylum system is riddled with abuse, we have to be honest with ourselves.

“The way to tackle that is by changing fundamentally the way we handle asylum.”

Mr Jenrick insisted the new Rwanda policy would alleviate the pressure.

“That will create the deterrent we desperately need, it will break the business model of the people smuggle gangs and it will stop the system from coming under intolerable pressure like it is today,” he said.

The minister was asked about recent scenes in Pimlico in London where around 40 asylum seekers were left on street after they refused to enter a hotel and sleep "four people per room".

The Herald:

Westminster Council leader Adam Hug said the migrants were people who "are likely to have been through significant and traumatic events" were being asked to share "an inappropriately sized room with multiple strangers".

He said the authority had received no communication that the asylum seekers were coming into the borough.

Photos of the group showed sleeping bags on the streets and signs reading and “This is a prison, not a hotel”.

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Asked about the incident, Mr Jenrick told the BBC: “As I understand what happened here was that these migrants, who had themselves said that they were destitute, they had nowhere to stay, we had offered them a safe bed with board and lodgings in a good-quality hotel in central London.

“Yes, some of them had to share with other people. These are single adult males: I don’t think that’s unreasonable.

“We want to reduce the cost to the taxpayer. Some people said that wasn’t good enough and they wanted their own ensuite bedrooms, and the Home Office took the perfectly reasonable view that we’ve got to look after the taxpayer here.

“And if you’re genuinely destitute, of course you’d accept that, and common sense prevailed and, I think, almost all of the migrants in question accepted the accommodation.”

He said it was “completely fair and reasonable” to ask single adult males to share a room.

“We don’t want to be using hotels at all. These are taking away valuable assets for the local business community, for society, you know, people’s weddings and personal events have had to be cancelled because of that.

“But where we are using them, it’s right that we get good value for money for the taxpayer.

“And so if single adult males can share a room, and it’s legal to do so, which will obviously depend on the size of the accommodation, then we’ll ask people to do that.

“I think that’s a completely fair and reasonable approach,” he told Kuenssberg.

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Asked about David Cameron’s 2010 pledge to reduce annual net migration below 100,000, Mr Jenrick said: “I don’t think that targets like that are particularly helpful because migration is an extremely challenging space where behaviours are constantly changing.”

Net migration to the UK is estimated to have reached a record 606,000 in 2022, up 24% from 488,000 in 2021, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Responding to Mr Jenrick’s comments, Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “In the media today the Immigration Minister falsely claimed that most people arriving by boat are economic migrants and that the asylum system is ‘riddled with abuse’, when the truth is that the Government’s own statistics show this to be untrue, as the majority of people crossing the Channel to the UK are eventually shown to be refugees.

“In fact, three-quarters of asylum claims are granted protection at the initial decision stage.

“Instead of explaining away failures in the asylum system, it is essential for the Government to keep a sustained focus on fixing the problems within the UK asylum system, starting with real commitment and resourcing to tackling the asylum backlog of 170,000.”