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Misleading and deceptive ‘On The Move’ website is unacceptable attempt to deter asylum seekers

Written by
Aaron Gates-Lincoln
Date of Publication:
09 August 2021

The UK Home Office has recently come under fire for the use of controversial and morally debatable deterrence tactics that aim to stop individuals seeking asylum from crossing the English Channel.

In the latest addition of the UK Home Office's showcase of dubious ethics and morality, the government department was found to have imagined up a fake organisation named "On The Move". The organisation claimed to "provide migrants in transit with free, reliable and important information" through a glossy website, kitted out with full branding and even a logo. The main website importantly used a .org domain, which can most commonly be associated with charities and showed no signs or links to the UK government; giving the impression it was 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 the knowledge that they would actually be contacting the UK government. The "On The Move" website was also found to be littered with false and misleading information. This included telling readers that the UK "regularly returns people who enter via irregular routes" despite the UK being unable to deport individuals seeking asylum to EU countries since January 1st 2021 as a result of Brexit. It also claimed that steering a dinghy across the English Channel "is a crime", although the prosecutions of boat pilots being 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 of "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". It instead focuses on information of how to claim asylum in France and Belgium or 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, the inclusion of such a tactic that is seeped with deception and deceit is unwarranted and ethically questionable.

Speaking on the matter, Nick Thomas-Symonds, the Labour shadow Home Secretary has stated "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". He continues to say that "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 shored 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".

In response to the criticism, the Home Office has argued that posts linking to the website were made from its "clearly branded" official Facebook and Instagram accounts as part of its campaign. It also stressed that posts about steering boats and prosecutions were made before changes to Crown Prosecution Service guidance and maintained that they were still able to deport individuals seeking asylum.

Actions such as these are becoming much too common by the current UK government and are simply unacceptable. It speaks volumes that the lack of morality present in the Home Office, to mislead one of the most vulnerable of groups in today's society, is not a surprise nor a one-time occurrence. 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 to overhaul the current UK immigration system.