‘Life will be hard’: Online ads target would-be Channel migrants warning UK immigration rules are ‘tougher than you think’

Would-be Channel migrants are being warned of the hardships they might suffer in Britain in a new Home Office social media campaign.

Adverts on Facebook and YouTube target those who may be considering making illegal journeys to the UK as PM Rishi Sunak seeks to fulfil his vow to ‘stop the boats’.

The campaign has been launched in Vietnam with an increasing proportion of Channel migrants coming from the south-east Asian country.

According to the Home Office, Vietnamese is one of the top 10 nationalities for migrants making illegal crossings to Britain.

The adverts warn prospective migrants about the reality of life in the UK as an illegal entrant.

One tells of a migrant’s initial belief that living and earning in Britain would be ‘easy’, before they discovered it was ‘very difficult to get work’. 

Another reveals a migrant’s ‘regret’ at making the ‘very scary’ crossing to the UK on a small boat that was ‘significantly different to what the people smugglers described’. 

The campaign also directs Vietnamese social media users to a new website that sets out the tough laws that face illegal migrants in Britain.

This includes the risk of imprisonment for working illegally in the UK, the risk of exploitation by criminal gangs, and a bar on accessing public services. 

The new social media campaign has been launched in Vietnam with an increasing proportion of Channel migrants coming from the south-east Asian country

The new social media campaign has been launched in Vietnam with an increasing proportion of Channel migrants coming from the south-east Asian country

People are pictured sitting onboard an inflatable boat before attempting to illegally cross the Channel to reach Britain from northern France

People are pictured sitting onboard an inflatable boat before attempting to illegally cross the Channel to reach Britain from northern France

Small boat crossings: How Vietnam compares with other countries 

Vietnamese nationals made up 5 per cent of small boat arrivals in the UK in 2023, up from 1 per cent in 2022 but the same proportion as in 2021, Home Office figures show.

Of the 28,381 arrivals last year where nationality was known, 1,323 were from Vietnam.

This is some way behind the most common country of origin, Afghanistan, which accounted for 5,545 of arrivals in 2023, or 20 per cent of the total.

The next most common nationality was Iranian (13 per cent), followed by Turkish (11 per cent), Eritrean (9 per cent) and Iraqi (9 per cent).

Vietnamese ranked as the eighth most common nationality last year, compared with 13th in 2022 and sixth in 2021.

The figures for 2023 represent a sharp contrast with 2022, when Albania accounted for the highest number (12,658) and greatest proportion (28 per cent) of people making the journey across the English Channel.

In 2023 this dropped to just 924 people, or 3 per cent of the total.

The fall coincided with action taken by the governments of both countries to discourage people from attempting the crossing. 

The Home Office said the launch of the campaign followed ‘successful social media activity’ in Albania, France and Belgium.

It added that similar campaigns were ‘also being considered for other priority countries’.

Home Secretary James Cleverly said: ‘This is a powerful campaign which demonstrates first-hand that life for people arriving here illegally is a far cry from the lies they have been sold by the gangs on the other side of the Channel.

‘Last year, similar work contributed to a 90 per cent reduction in small boat arrivals from Albania, and overall numbers are down by a third, but there is more to do.

‘Expanding our campaign to Vietnam, another key partner in our work to tackle illegal migration, will help us to save more lives and dent the business model of the criminals who profit from this vile trade.’

In one of the new adverts, a migrant shares his experience of sleeping in a camp in Calais for five nights under the supervision of armed guards, before taking the journey across the Channel from France to the UK.

The migrant, referred to as K, says in the advert: ‘Never again would I risk my life in a small boat, even if you bribed me.’

Meanwhile, the new ‘UK Immigration Facts’ website features videos from Border Force officers describing ‘shocking cases’ and their experiences of ‘rescuing small boat migrants from life-threatening danger in the Channel’.

The Home Office said UK and Vietnamese authorities ‘already work closely’ to prevent illegal journeys to the UK and remove those with no right to be in the country.

It added that senior officials from the UK and Vietnam are due to meet in London on April 17, to ‘discuss working in even closer partnership on migration issues’.

It comes as a new poll revealed public dissatisfaction with the Government’s handling of immigration has plumbed new depths.

Just 9 per cent of Britons are happy with how ministers are dealing with our borders, while 69 per cent say they are unhappy.

It is the most damning verdict since the Immigration Attitudes Tracker was launched in 2015.

According to the survey of 3,000 voters – carried out by pollsters Ipsos and the think-tank British Future – 54 per cent of those who said they were unhappy cited ‘not doing enough to stop Channel crossings’ while 51 per cent said ‘immigration numbers are too high’.

More than half of all respondents now support reducing migration, up from 48 per cent in 2023.

A breakdown by political party support makes bleak reading for the Conservatives just months before the general election is expected, with the flagship policy to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda on hold and support for Reform UK rising.

Only 16 per cent of Tory supporters and 8 per cent of those who backed Boris Johnson in 2019 are happy with the current handling of immigration.

And 53 per cent said the issue would be important in deciding how they will vote, behind only the NHS and cost of living.

Perhaps less surprisingly, just 10 per cent of Labour supporters have a positive view of the Government’s performance, with 72 per cent saying the opposite.

Among Labour voters who are dissatisfied, 42 per cent said the main reason was ‘creating a negative or fearful environment for migrants’ while 41 per cent complained about the failure to stop small boat arrivals.

Sunder Katwala, director of British Future, said: ‘There is widespread dissatisfaction with the Government’s handling of immigration, but for different reasons.

‘Many Conservatives want tougher action to match tough words, while Labour supporters want more compassion alongside control.’

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