Home Office launched website to deter asylum seekers from coming to UK

Visitors to the On The Move website are fed information discouraging them from settling in Britain (Picture: Getty)

The Home Office spent thousands in taxpayer cash to set up a ‘misleading’ website to deter asylum seekers from travelling to the UK, warning them ‘we will return you’.

On The Move was exposed as a ‘fake organisation’ set up by the government, complete with a logo and website containing numerous pages about the ‘risks’ of making the journey to Britain.

Links to the website were shared on social media as part of a Home Office campaign that cost £23,000 over a five-month period.

The Home Office said the social media posts linking back to the site were sent from its ‘clearly branded’ Facebook and Instagram accounts. It said the campaign was run to deter migrants in France and Belgium from making ‘dangerous attempts’ to enter the UK for which it ‘makes no apologies’.

However, the website uses a .org domain – often associated with charities – and does not state that it is run by the Home Office in its ‘about us’ section.

Website visitors are invited to email On The Move with any questions they have – but are not told that they are in fact contacting the UK government.

Under one section about safe and legal alternatives to migrating to the UK, the site gives details about how to claim asylum in France and Belgium, but not Britain.

One section discussing ‘the realities’ of the asylum process, warns potential migrants that they won’t be able to work in the UK immediately, claim benefits, or get free healthcare.

The website promises ‘free, reliable and important migrant information’ (Picture: migrantsonthemove.org)
The website was launched in April 2020 (Picture: migrantsonthemove.org)

It says: ‘You will not be eligible for state welfare and in most cases, asylum seekers are given a state allowance of as little as £5 a day to live on.’

The website says Britain ‘regularly returns people who enter via irregular routes’, but since January this year, the UK has not been able to deport asylum seekers to EU states due to Brexit.

Professor Tanja Bueltmann of the University of Strathclyde said the Home Office made a ‘clearly deliberate decision to conceal who is really behind the site’.

She tweeted: ‘These actions obviously represent a complete dereliction of duty – and on several levels.

‘To be very clear: for a Govt department to spread what effectively amounts to misinformation in order to maintain the hostile environment …. it is a truly despicable approach.’

A Freedom of Information request by PA found the Home Office paid £23,000 to place targeted ads on Facebook and Instagram over a five-month period to April, sharing links to the On The Move website.

The posts were written in English, Kurdish, Arabic, Persian and Pashto and carried slogans including ‘we will return you’, ‘don’t put your or your child’s life in danger’ and ‘there is no hiding place’.

Croydon Home Office, which houses the headquarters of the Border and Immigration Agency (Picture: Corbis/Getty)
At least 8,452 migrants have successfully reached the UK in small boats over the English Channel (Picture: Getty)

Clare Moseley, founder of charity Care4Calais, told The Independent: ‘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.’

The Home Office told The Independent that social media posts linking to the website were part of its ‘clearly branded’ official Facebook and Instagram accounts as part of its campaign.

It said posts about prosecutions for steering boats predated changes to Crown Prosecution Service guidance and maintained it can still deport asylum seekers.

Clandestine channel threat commander Dan O’Mahoney, of the Home Office, told Metro.co.uk: ‘We are seeing an unacceptable rise in dangerous and unnecessary small boat crossings.

‘The migrants communications campaign ran between December 2020-April 2021 to deter migrants located in France and Belgium who were intending to make dangerous attempts to enter the UK by small boat or hidden in lorries over the winter months.

‘The campaign featured a range of important messages, highlighting the risk to life of making these deadly journeys and providing information on claiming asylum in the safe country they are in.

‘We make no excuse for providing important and potentially lifesaving information.’

Reducing levels of migration was a key plank of the Vote Leave campaign which was fronted by now Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Home Secretary Priti Patel is pushing for reforms to the UK’s asylum system to give border forces the power to turn away migrant boats at sea.

Under the proposed Nationality and Borders Bill, the UK would also be allowed to send asylum seekers to a ‘safe third country’ or ‘designated places’.

The number of people who have made the dangerous journey across the English Channel in small boats in 2021 has already surpassed last year’s total.

MORE : Migrants steering boats across Channel to claim asylum ‘will no longer be prosecuted’

MORE : Saying Priti Patel ‘can’t be racist’ because she is a person of colour is absurd

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