In its latest step of questionable ethics and morality, the UK Home Office has set up an unattributed organisation named ‘On The Move’, which claims to ‘provide migrants in transit with free, reliable, and important information’.
This organisation has a website, migrantsonthemove.org, which has the look and feel of a non-governmental organisation (NGO) site. A ‘.org’ domain is commonly associated with charities and obscures any link to the UK Government, giving the impression that it is an independent body.
Concealment of the Home Office’s role in the creation of the organisation seems to have always been a wish, as research by The Independent has found that the website was set up in April 2020 using a private registration tool that hides the owners’ personal information.
Access and knowledge of the website was distributed throughout groups of individuals seeking asylum, particularly in France and Belgium, in a social media campaign that is said to have cost the Government £23,000 over a 5-month period*.
These adverts were placed on Facebook and Instagram in English, Kurdish, Arabic, Persian and Pashto and included slogans such as “don’t put your or your child’s life in danger”, “we will return you” and “there is no hiding place”.
Asylum seekers were invited to email the organisation with any questions they may have about migration, without it being clear that they would be contacting the UK Government. Readers of the website were issued with misleading pieces of information, being told that the UK ‘regularly returns people who enter via irregular routes’.
In reality, the UK has been unable to deport individuals seeking asylum to EU countries since 1 January 2021, as a result of Brexit. The website also claimed that steering a dinghy across the English Channel ‘is a crime’, although the prosecutions of boat pilots have been limited in recent times.
When first entering the website, readers are initially asked whether they are ‘considering travelling to the UK irregularly’. If yes, they are redirected to a page with links and information on the dangers of the journey, ‘legal risks’ and the ‘realities’ of life in the UK.
The website also contains a section on ‘safe and legal alternatives’, but does not include any actual information on how to seek asylum in the UK specifically or routes such as ‘leave to remain’ and ‘citizenship’. Instead, it focuses on advising readers about how to claim asylum in France and Belgium, and informs individuals how to ‘return to their home country voluntarily’.
The creation of this website is clearly a tactic in the Home Office’s recent campaign to dissuade migrants from Europe from crossing the English Channel and entering the UK irregularly. However, without identifying its relationship with the website, the Home Office is engaging in a deception that is unwarranted and ethically questionable.
Benali Hamdache, Migration and Refugee Support spokesperson for the Green Party, condemned the act, saying: "This once again demonstrates the wrongheaded priorities of the Home Office. It's stunning that anyone in a position of power would believe that this website would work and wasn't a waste of time and money. It's time to scrap the Home Office and start again. There is no fixing this level of institutional racism and hostility."
Speaking on the matter, Nick Thomas-Symonds, Labour Shadow Home Secretary, said: “We need an asylum policy that focuses on tackling the gangs profiteering from people trafficking, reopening safe and legal routes to drop the government’s ineffective bill that breaks the Refugee Convention.”
“Priti Patel’s chaotic management of the Home Office has led to thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money being spent on an advertising campaign that’s false, disgraceful and dehumanising.”
Such thoughts were mirrored by Clare Mosely, founder of the charity Care4Calais: [as she stated] “I’m shocked that our government is determined to spend more time and money deterring and misleading vulnerable people. Those who make it to our shores are often traumatised, having made life-threatening journeys to escape from some of the world’s most dangerous countries. It’s about time this government showed some compassion and stepped up to help.”
Actions such as these highlight the Home Office’s determination to keep migrants out of the UK, failing to recognise that often their actions represent the only path open to them. It speaks volumes about the lack of morality in the Home Office, which will go so far as to mislead one of the most vulnerable groups in today’s society on several occasions.
The UK Government needs to be held accountable for its repeated and ever harshening treatment of individuals seeking asylum, and reform must continue to be campaigned for in order to overhaul the current UK immigration system.
Aaron Gates-Lincoln is a writer at Immigration Advice Service