The British government has awarded more than £ 700,000 ($ 950,000) to a company that urged Afghans not to flee Afghanistan before the Taliban took control of the country in August last year, an investigation conducted by The independent found.
Posing as a non-profit organization, Hong Kong-based company Seefar has reportedly been running online campaigns to advise asylum seekers and potential migrants not to travel to Europe and the UK, citing the dangers and risks they would face.
Established in 2014, Seefar has focused on ‘the risks of irregular migration’ and the importance of ‘safe and legal alternatives’, although it does not provide any details on how to seek asylum in the UK or request resettlement.
According to the company, she describes herself as “a recognized leader in understanding migratory behavior change”, with “extensive experience in the development and deployment of innovative monitoring and evaluation approaches for communication campaigns on irregular migration “.
The independentSeefar’s investigation has now revealed that Seefar is operating on funding given to it by the UK government, with the Home Office providing it with at least £ 702,000 since 2016. Additional money could also have been made to the company by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The document cites Home Office public expenditure records, which list 12 separate grants and payments – each of them up to £ 120,000 ($ 162,451) – to the company between 2016 and 2018. These Payments are classified as under “capacity and resource group” or for “advertising, media and advertising”.
Between December 2020 and April 2021, more than £ 23,000 ($ 31,134) was also paid by the Home Office to social media companies, Facebook and Instagram, to serve targeted ads linking to one of the Seefar websites named “On The Move”. On this site, he told potential migrants watching him that “You have a choice… Don’t risk your life and waste hard-earned money trying to reach the UK”.
Although he has not officially listed the UK government as a donor on this site, he has listed his “supporters” as including the governments of UK, Germany, Australia and the Netherlands, as well as the European Commission.
READ: UK government urged to provide safer routes for refugees
It was between February and December 2020 that Seefar and its websites specifically focused on a campaign to target Afghan migrants, however calling it a “migration communications campaign.” In a press release, he announced that the campaign “has enabled more than half of those consulted to make safer and more informed migration decisions, and to avoid life-threatening encounters on their journey to Europe. “.
According to the survey, the funding is not yet complete: the UK government is set to grant Seefar an additional £ 500,000 ($ 676,777) in public money under a new contract – announced in March of last year – for “organized immigration crime deterrence and communication strategy influence.”
Also in August, the company won another three-year contract to provide a “training framework” for a ministry that “offers strategic capacity development programs abroad on behalf of the Home Office.”
A spokesperson for the Interior Ministry told the newspaper that “we do not apologize for using every possible tool at our disposal to provide potentially life-saving information to migrants … Highlight the threats of these deadly journeys is vitally important to make it clear that people are risking their lives if they turn to smugglers. ” He also argued that the controversial Nationality and Borders Bill was able to “fix the failing asylum system. We will welcome people through safe and legal channels while preventing abuse of the system.”
As the UK government continues to grapple with attempts by asylum seekers to cross the Channel and criminalize smugglers who would allow them, many criticize the government for discouraging migration to the country too much rather than providing safe alternative routes and speed up the asylum process. .
READ: Politician leads Britain to far right