The £10,000 pilot was rolled out in six London boroughs, Hounslow, Barking and Dagenham, Ealing, Barnet, Brent and Redbridge — all areas chosen because they have significantly higher or below average numbers of voluntary returns.
In what appears to be a glaring oversight, the Home Office apparently failed to consult the relevant councils, leading to Redbridge leaders of all political stripe uniting to condemn the campaign:
"We were neither informed nor consulted about this Home Office initiative. It is clearly most unfortunate that the Home Office should take actions which were bound to be controversial, about highly sensitive matters without careful discussions with affected communities."
The councils in Barking and Dagenham, Brent and Barnet have echoed Redbridge's dismay at the lack of consultation and negative impact on their communities.The adverts also claim to show how many illegal immigrants in the local areas have been deported, but as both the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and Full Fact report, the figures aren't fit for purpose (much like the former UK Border Agency, in fact).
The Home Office campaign could now face a legal challenge from the Refugee and Migrant Forum of East London (Ramfel) group. It was also the subject of ridicule over the weekend when Twitter user Pukkah Punjabi texted the Home Office number to ask for help getting home to Willesden Green from Harrow, prompting an outbreak of similar requests with the hashtag #racistvan.
Business secretary Vince Cable added his voice to the growing criticism of the campaign, calling it 'stupid and offensive':
"It is designed, apparently, to create a sense of fear in the British population that we have a vast problem of illegal immigration. Actually, it's quite difficult being an illegal immigrant in Britain. You can't work, certainly legally. You can't have access to benefits. So the idea that there's some vast hidden army of people is almost certainly wrong."
Meanwhile, London mayor Boris Johnson has done little to endear himself, using his Telegraph column to speak out in support of the campaign at the same time as mocking a barrister who confronted him over it. Way to go, Boris.
Photo by essexdiver in the Londonist Flickr pool.