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UK elections 2024: Conservatives slammed over anti-migration ad on World Refugee Day

The video, which takes aim at Labour, depicts a red carpet being rolled out to sea in reference to asylum seekers and refugees arriving by boat
People board a smuggler's boat in an attempt to cross the English Channel, on the beach of Gravelines, near Dunkirk, northern France on 26 April 2024 (Sameer Al-Doumy/AFP)

The UK Conservative Party has faced a deluge of criticism on social media after it released a "hateful" anti-migration election advertisement on World Refugee Day.

The video, which was posted on the ruling party's official X account on Thursday, begins with a shot of small boat viewed through of a pair of binoculars.

Scenes of people setting up stanchions and rolling out a red carpet to the sea follow, with the word "welcome" written in the sand. It ends with text reading: "Labour’s approach to illegal immigration."

Captioned "Don't wake up to this on 5th July" - referring to the day after the upcoming general elections -  the video alludes to the party's controversial promise to "stop the boats", which would see the detention and removal of irregular migrants hoping to claim asylum in Britain.

Thousands of social media users responded to the video with disgust, labelling it "sickening," "abhorrent" and devoid of empathy.

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"This is so disgusting. Imagine the mindset that made this. People are dying. Afraid. Exploited and desperate," wrote Caroline Lucas, a former MP for the Green Party. 

"The Tories (are) now chasing Reform to the very hard right and it's sickening," she said, referring to right-wing politician Nigel Farage's anti-immigration Reform UK party.

"Heaven forbid we should treat refugees with respect and kindness," commented one user.

Others shared statistics about migration under the Conservative Party, which has governed the country since 2010.

"Conservatives once again trying to blame the last fourteen years on anyone except, you know, the actual government that's been in power," commented one user.

"Immigrantion isn't the problem but, even if it was, the Conservatives have been in charge of immigration policy for FOURTEEN YEARS."

For several hours, a reader-generated community note appeared under the video, reading: "Under the current Conservative government, the highest number of migrants have crossed the channel ever in 2024. On Tuesday 18th June a near record 882 migrants crossed." It has since been removed.

Another said: "What a dirty, inconsiderate ad. A complete disrespect to the lives of countless migrants lost at sea trying to escape horrendous conditions. You should be ashamed."

"I am struggling to find the words to express how horrible I find this. The callousness, the inhumanity, the divisiveness. The whole lot. It's a real 'true colours' moment," replied another.

MEE reached out to the Conservative Party for comment.

World Refugee Day

Users also pointed out that the campaign was released on World Refugee Day, which is marked annually by the United Nations to honour those who were forced to flee their countries, and questioned whether the decision to publish the video on that day was deliberate.

"Today on #WorldRefugeeDay, the Conservative Party have launched a campaign ad stoking right wing anti-immigrant rhetoric and making light of the horrific loss of life of refugees fleeing persecution in the sea," said the UK-based campaign group, Hope not Hate.

"The Tories latest piece of vile, dog-whistle electioneering - put out on World Refugee Day," shared another user. "We are poorer, sicker & careering ever deeper into climate crisis because of 14 years of Tory government, not because of people in dire straits coming to the UK to rebuild their lives."

The UK heads to the polls on 4 July for a general election amid increasing frustration over a cost of living crisis, healthcare, infrastructure and the handling of Israel's war on Gaza.

Migration has been a key and polarising issue in the electoral race, with both the Conservatives and Labour parties promising to be tough on immigration.

In April, Rishi Sunak's Conservative government struck an agreement with Rwanda to deport asylum seekers to the central African country.

The flagship immigration policy, associated with former Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who had earlier said that it was her "dream" and "obsession" to see a photo of a plane carrying asylum seekers to Rwanda on newspaper front pages, was met with backlash. 

Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that the UK government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda was unlawful and would put refugees at risk of being returned to countries from where they had fled.

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