Britain is spending more than three times the amount of aid money used to alleviate poverty in Africa on asylum seekers and refugees in the UK, figures show.
Ministers were facing fresh criticism for diverting the overseas aid budget to the UK after it was announced that nearly £3.7 billion was spent on in-donor refugee costs (IDRC) last year.
That was an increase of £2.6 billion from 2021, and dwarfs the £1.1 billion spent on Africa, according to provisional Foreign Office figures published on Wednesday.
They came as the Home Office prepared to confirm it has acquired a barge to house hundreds of asylum seekers off the Dorset coast as Rishi Sunak tries to tackle small boat crossings.
The figures mean nearly 29% of the £12.8 billion spent under Britain’s overseas aid budget – already shrunk by the Prime Minister’s cuts – was focused on projects in the UK.
In 2021, the share spent in the UK was a little over 9%.
The Foreign Office attributed the increase in IDRC to spending on Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion and the resettlement of Afghans after the Taliban takeover.
Africa remains the largest recipient of UK aid, receiving £1.1 billion last year, but that was down from £1.3 billion in 2021.
Kathleen Spencer Chapman, a director at the Plan International UK children’s rights organisation, accused the Government of “failing women and girls around the world”.
“We are deeply concerned that the Government is using large chunks of an already reduced aid budget to pay for a domestic asylum system that is not fit for purpose,” she said.
“In its relentless push to slash overseas aid, the Government is failing women and girls around the world.
“We need an effective and fully funded asylum system, but the funding must not come at the expense of communities facing crises overseas. Diverting overseas aid means less support for the east Africa hunger crisis, where children are dying from hunger.
“We urge the Government to allocate funds directly and transparently to the UK asylum system, and to urgently refocus the aid budget on to those areas for which it was intended – chiefly tackling global poverty and the impacts of climate change, promoting gender equality and responding to humanitarian crises.”
Ranil Dissanayake, from the Centre for Global Development international aid think tank, described the figures as “striking and discouraging”.
“It’s a complete break with the past, and a total transformation of our aid budget. No one could possibly justify these allocations on development grounds,” he added.
International aid rules mean the first-year costs of supporting refugees in a donor country can qualify as official development assistance, though the rule has been controversial.
Mr Sunak, as chancellor in 2021, slashed the UK’s aid spending from 0.7% of gross national income to 0.5%.
He cited the economic hit from the coronavirus pandemic but has subsequently chosen not to restore the original spending level.
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