Skip to main content
Image shows the definition of the word 'costility'. The definition is: the cost of hostility. The public money wasted by governments on being hostile towards refugees and people seeking asylum.

Costility: the cost of hostility

When governments pursue legislation that aims to prevent refugees from travelling to the UK, like 2022’s Anti-Refugee Bill and 2023’s Refugee Ban Bill, they waste billions of pounds in public money.

The biggest cost of hostile policies is the damage done to people seeking safety, but the cost in terms of the public money wasted is huge.

Money that could be spent on schools and hospitals is being thrown away on deterrents that both don’t work and are indefensibly cruel.

We call this costility.

Watch Tara explain costility

Refugee Action’s Policy and Research Manager Tara is here to tell you all about costility.

Wasting your money

Every year, the government makes available a personal tax summary showing what your tax contributions were spent on.

We’ve made our own version for costility. Here are some of the ways that the government is choosing to waste your money on punishing refugees.

  1. The Rwanda Deportation Plan – £140 million signing on fee

£140 million in public money paid up front to the government of Rwanda to set up a deportation scheme that isn’t running, won’t act as a deterrent and intends to violently force refugees onto planes.

  1. Drones for Channel surveillance – £1 billion over 3 years

Drone surveillance of people who cross the Channel in order to claim asylum has not reduced the number of crossings or made them safer. The price tag is a billion, but the extent to which drones address the root causes of dangerous journeys is zero.

  1. Deals with France – £479 million over 3 years

It’s important that neighbouring countries work together to keep refugees safe, but the UK keeps signing new agreements with France that do anything but. Instead more money is thrown at police patrols and surveillance as the lack of safe routes continues to force people onto small boats.

  1. Detaining refugees – £2.8 billion per year

Based on the predicted number of people seeking asylum in the UK this year, Refugee Council’s research estimates that the measures in the Refugee Ban Bill to lock up men, women and children for 28 days will cost nearly three billion over 12 months.

  1. Denying right to work – £1 billion over 10 years

Costility doesn’t just waste public money that could be used elsewhere. Hostile policies, like banning people seeking asylum from working, also prevent them from contributing to the economy by paying tax. This work ban has cost the public £1 billion over the last decade.

  1. Compensating unlawfully detained people – £28.9 million over 3 years

Being as hostile as possible regardless of the cost often puts ministers at odds with the law. Nearly £30 million has been spent in compensation to illegally detained refugees. Is it really too much to ask for policies that comply with the law and human rights protections, and don’t waste lorry-loads of public money traumatising refugees?

Don’t get us wrong, cruelty would not be ok if it came cheaper. Nor would trying to deter refugees be morally acceptable if it were easier.

But costility, the prevailing approach for decades, is the worst of all worlds. Ineffective, immoral and expensive – it combines all three!

The costly deterrents fail, and refugees are forced into danger when they travel and abuse when they arrive. Then the public foots the bill…


But money invested in welcoming and supporting refugees is well spent. Establishing safe routes into the UK, providing appropriate support and accommodation to people trying to rebuild their lives, funding welcoming communities – this approach would save lives and enrich British society…


While costility is as bad as it gets in terms of an overall approach, there’s always scope within it to spend even more and punish refugees even more severely. That’s exactly what the government is planning to do with the Refugee Ban Bill.

We laid out above the cost of detention that the ‘lock them all up’ measures in this Bill involve for one year (£2.8 billion). But these costs are estimated to rise to between £8.7 billion and £9.6 billion three years after the legislation comes into force.

We need to call this what it is: tens of billions of pounds redirected from anything constructive to punishing people who ask for the UK’s help.

Most of these costs are publicly available, others are disputed by the Home Office. But the government refuses to publish its own estimates of what its new plans for the mass detention of refugees will cost. This refusal speaks volumes.

The government fears that the public will see what a colossal rip off costility is. And eventually, the public will.

When they do, it’s important that people also see that there is another way.

Our vision

A compassionate, accessible and workable asylum system is possible. Investing in welcoming refugees instead of punishing them is possible.

Refugee Action’s vision is based on the four key principles of anti-racism, equality, accountability, and welcome. These principles would transform the refugee protection system into a kinder system where people seeking asylum are believed, welcome and treated with dignity.

You can read more in our vision document.