LONDON: The British government gave a Hong Kong-based firm over £700,000 ($947,200) over five years to tell Afghans not to flee the country, according to The Independent, and is set to hand it another £500,000 in the coming years.
The company, Seefar, responsible for websites such as On The Move and The Migrant Project, and which describes itself as “a recognised leader in understanding migration behaviour change” and claims to offer services including “scripting lines for politicians to deliver” was hired in 2016 by the Home Office, with even more money possibly being awarded to it by the Foreign Office in the same period.
In a press release, Seefar said it conducted a “migration communications campaign in Afghanistan” throughout 2020, which had “successfully resulted in more than half of consultees making safer and more informed migration decisions, and avoiding potentially deadly encounters on the journey to Europe.”
Posing as a neutral non-profit organization, Seefar’s On The Move website urges migrants: “Don’t risk your life and waste hard earned money trying to reach the UK.”
The Home Office also paid social media platforms Facebook and Instagram over £23,000 to promote adverts for the company’s sites, which do not list details on safe ways to claim asylum in the UK.
In August 2021, the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, with thousands of people killed, tens of thousands left stranded or in hiding, and the country facing a winter of shortages.
Seefar added that it used “unbranded” methods to dissuade Afghans leaving the country, and advised European governments not to link themselves to its methods.
The success of Seefar’s campaigns is set to be rewarded with a further £500,000 for a “organised immigration crime deterrence and influencing communications strategy” which “includes proposals to deter migrants and signposting migrants to credible alternatives … through a multilingual website and telephone service.”
The same month Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, Seefar was also awarded a three-year deal to provide training for “strategic capability development programmes overseas on behalf of the Home Office” in relation to “borders, migration and asylum.”
Tim Naor Hilton, CEO of charity Refugee Action, told The Independent: “We have seen this year the tragic consequences of what happens when ministers waste money on a hostile policy of trying to keep people out, rather than keep people safe.
“The government must spend less time on these murky schemes and more on creating effective safe routes for refugees to claim asylum here.”
A Home Office spokesperson told the paper: “While lives are at risk, we make no apology for using every possible tool at our disposal to provide potentially lifesaving information to migrants.
“Highlighting the threats of these deadly journeys is vitally important in making clear that people risk their lives if they turn to people smugglers.”