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Revealed: What Priti Patel spent selling Rwanda deportations to the public

Tens of thousands of pounds were spent on ads to be shown by Facebook and Instagram

Anita Mureithi
10 June 2022, 10.48am

Priti Patel and Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta after signing the partnership agreement in Kigali, Rwanda

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REUTERS / Jean Bizimana/ Alamy Stock Photo

Priti Patel spent tens of thousands of pounds trying to sell the public her “cynical” plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda, openDemocracy has found.

Between £38,000 and £50,500 of taxpayers’ money was spent on Facebook and Instagram ads for the government’s offshoring plan, which Home Office workers themselves have said feels like “taking part in human trafficking”. The Facebook spend is recorded in the platform’s own transparency disclosures.

It comes amid reports that the first flight to Rwanda, scheduled for Tuesday, could be delayed by legal action. An injunction could ground the flight.

The six ads launched by the Home Office in April were each seen more than a million times.

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Facebook was paid £10,000 to £15,000 for one video ad, active from 29 April to 17 May, which claimed that the new plan would “deter dangerous and illegal journeys to the UK and support migrants to build a new & prosperous life.”

But experts have said that the plan could encourage asylum seekers to find riskier ways of bypassing authorities to reach the UK, including “trying to hide in things like shipping containers”, which could “turn out to be even more dangerous than the boat journeys”.

‘Point scoring exercise’

In the video ad, intercut with footage of a coffee shop and street scenes in Rwanda, Patel called the policy a “groundbreaking partnership”, and said it would “save lives”. Rwandan government spokesperson Yolande Makolo also appeared on camera to say the country did not discriminate against anyone – likely an attempt to head off warnings from international rights groups about the country’s record on protections for LGBTQ people.

In April, a community organiser in the country’s capital, Kigali, told openDemocracy the country had no laws to keep LGBTQ people safe and warned of discrimination and stigma in work, education and society.

Another ad costing up to £9,000 alleged that Patel’s plan would “reduce the cost to UK taxpayers” of housing migrants in the UK.

Karen Doyle, a founder of civil and immigration rights group Movement For Justice, told openDemocracy: “That says it all really. This policy is not about people. It's not about the reality of asylum seekers.

“It's not serving any purpose other than as a political point scoring exercise by a desperate, failing, corrupt government.”

Despite Patel’s pledge to “learn” from mistakes and evaluate the effectiveness of the government’s hostile environment policies in the aftermath of Wendy Williams’ Windrush Lessons Learned review, the Home Office is using taxpayers’ money to market the deportation of asylum seekers to millions of people.

“The Rwanda flight [signals] an end to Britain's commitment to refugees. It is saying that Britain is committed to ripping up human rights and refugee rights. And the government has been cynically using refugees to whip up racism and distract attention from their own failures,” said Doyle.

Editor's note: This article was amended on 13 June 2022 to remove a claim made in the original that communications agency FCB Inferno Limited had developed branding and messaging for the policy at a cost of £14,273.32, as revealed through a Freedom of Information request. It has now been made clear to us that this fee was in fact paid for advertising and design work around the government's wider 'New Plan for Immigration' last year, rather than the specific Rwanda deportations policy. The agency told openDemocracy it had not produced any work for the Rwanda policy.

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