The migrantsonthemove.org website, which was set up by the Home Office, claims to provide “free, reliable and important migration information".
It appears under the banner of a front organisation called On The Move, and was promoted to asylum-seekers in France and Belgium earlier this year as part of a £23,000 social media campaign by the Home Office.
However, there is no indication that the Whitehall department is behind the website, which was created last year and invites asylum-seekers to contact On The Move without telling them that they would be contacting the British Government.
Yesterday the CIPR accused the Home Office of “a lack of transparency” in creating a website that claims to be a reliable source of information but does not disclose the publisher.
It will be writing to the Home Secretary to make clear its “concerns surrounding the creation of websites with no clear author or acknowledgement of Government affiliation and with inaccurate information as wholly inappropriate”.
In a statement, Mandy Pearse, CIPR president, said: “Transparency in PR practice is critical to maintaining public trust and confidence in our institutions. That is why it is so important that those working in the public sector adhere to the highest standards of ethical practice. In this case the Home Office has not done that.”
She added: “The intention of deterring people from risking their lives with people smugglers is laudable, but the execution of this campaign has fallen short of the standards we would expect."
Clare Moseley, founder of the Care4Calais refugee charity, told PRWeek: "I'm shocked that our Government is determined to spend time and money misleading vulnerable people.”
She said: “Those who make it to our shores are often traumatised, having made life-threatening journeys to escape from some of the world's most dangerous countries. It's about time this Government showed some compassion and stepped up to help."
In a statement, a Home Office spokesperson said: “We are seeing an unacceptable rise in dangerous and unnecessary small boat crossings. While lives are at risk, we make no apology for providing potentially lifesaving information to migrants and highlighting the risk of these deadly journeys.”
They added: “The migrants communications campaign ran to deter migrants located in France and Belgium who were intending to make dangerous attempts to enter the UK by small boat or hidden in lorries over the winter months. The campaign’s website was promoted through the social media posts, which had clear Home Office branding on them.”