Skip to main content

Offshore Detention in Rwanda | Messaging Tips 

NEON have put together a messaging guide on offshore detention in Rwanda, including feed in from JCWI, Detention Action and Maya Goodfellow.


  • Build your message around morality, not affordability. 

Make a moral argument rather than getting bogged down in a debate about pragmatics or a cost-benefit analysis. Our audience wants to think of themselves as good people who believe the right thing. Mixed messages (that appeal to cost as well as values) will shift the conversation away from the more compelling argument about right and wrong. If this policy were the cheap option, it would be no less abhorrent. That doesn’t mean never mentioning cost, clearly it provides additional evidence this is a bad policy. Do not lead with affordability arguments  or let them eclipse the moral foundation of your message. 

  • Start with values like family, care, compassion and treating other people how we would want to be treated. 

Messages that start by appealing to shared values, rather than the problem, have been shown time and time again to be more effective at shifting public opinion. They invite the audience to reflect on their deeply held principles and connect emotionally to the story. Use this to humanise the people who will be impacted by this policy – reminding the audience of our shared humanity and experience. Do not talk about people as one-dimensional victims or reduce them to their status – instead, remind your audience they are people with families, aspirations, hopes and fears. 

  • Point the finger of blame and name the motivation that underpins this policy. 

By attributing blame clearly we expose who is responsible and that things could be different. This policy is the result of political choices made by people – different, and better, choices could be made instead. Go further, by calling out the motivation of Priti Patel and the Conservative Party. They are intentionally stirring up hatred and division, scapegoating people seeking asylum to both push through hardline policies and distract attention from their failures elsewhere.  

  • Provide aspirational calls to provide something good. Offer clear solutions and alternatives. 

Rather than focusing on fixing a broken system, assert better alternatives and solutions. Paint a picture of what will or could happen when we win and the government loses. Messages that provide a vision of how things could be (like people being able to reunite with their loved ones and rebuild their lives) cut through. It shows our audience that things can be different and gives them something to believe in. Offer a solution for today and a solution in the long term. That means detailing a concrete, clear step this government could take right away (e.g. creating  safe routes to stop people risking their lives in the channel) as well as offering a longer term systemic solution. 

  • Do not single Rwanda out as a ‘bad’ country. 

Whilst criticism of the Rwandan government’s human rights record is justified, be careful not to play into racist narratives by criticising “Rwanda” or “the Rwandan people”. Criticism is best coming from those with direct experience or insight into the human rights record of that country, such as Rwandan refugees or people seeking asylum, or Rwandan human rights professionals. No matter what country the government chose to send people seeking asylum to, this policy would be wrong. Instead, focus on the UK’s record. You could choose to highlight that we currently support fewer people seeking asylum than most European countries, that this policy renegades on our obligations set out in the refugee convention, that the UK’s relative wealth to Rwanda is vast and yet we are passing the buck on our obligations.



Don’t say Do say Why
Asylum seekers



People seeking asylum

People who have moved

Fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters etc.

Move away from simplistic labels to a depiction of people with agency
It is not illegal to seek asylum, not a security issue, not a threat, no need to fear

Myth busting

People have the right to seek asylum, it is an issue of basic rights, the foundation of human dignity.

Supporting people who need our help is the right thing to do.

Using negations only strengthens the opposition’s argument, especially “illegal” this only feeds the idea that seeking asylum could be illegal.

Focus on people and our shared rights. Centre compassion. 

Offshore detention

The Government is offshoring people to Rwanda.

Sending people by force away from a chance to rebuild their lives where they feel safe, where they have family, where the language is familiar. Persuadable audiences might have no idea what ‘offshore’ or ‘detention’ means. Talk about what this government is doing in plain terms.
Home Office This government

Priti Patel and Boris Johnson

For many of the people we want to persuade, the Home Office is not an institution they have to interact with. Spell out who is to blame by naming this government or the minister(s) responsible. 
As British people As caring people Decentre national identity as this is exclusive and unhelpful. Instead lean on values of care and compassion, a value most people want to identify with.
People have been detained. This government has detained people. Point the finger at who is responsible this helps people believe that people make choices and therefore things can be different
No human being is illegal. Wherever we come from, we have the right to be safe. Universalize the act of moving – everyone does it at some point in their lives. Do not repeat the opponents frame of people being illegal – even to challenge that assertion. 
Illegal routes

There is no such thing as illegal routes.

This government has created a situation where people are forced to take unsafe routes.

The way you enter a country should not impact your claim.

Illegal routes reinforce the idea that the people taking these routes are doing something illegal and deserve punishment. Talk about the government forcing people to take routes that are not safe and that the government could choose to provide safe ways to move. 
Safe and legal routes Safe routes Avoid reinforcing the idea that there are legal and illegal routes 
This could happen to anyone of us

Anyone could become a refugee.

These are people wanting to rebuild their lives and be reunited with loved ones. This ignores the fact that because of global inequality, legacy of colonialism and Western intervention, Black and Brown people in the Global South and post-colonial countries are significantly more likely to become refugees.

Research shows as people find it hard to believe that this could be them. And when they do imagine it happening to them, it provokes emotions of self-preservation rather than compassion.

People are fleeing war and violence People who have lost so much and hoping to rebuild their lives elsewhere and to reconnect with family and loved ones Avoid leading with violence and persecution, this feeds the victim narrative. It also makes it difficult for a persuadable audience to connect as they won’t be able to see themselves in that situation. Talk about what people with agency who have lost things are making choices to restart their lives. 


ATTACK: Is the government really out of step with the public? Taking back control of our borders is a priority for a lot of Brits.

RESPONSE: How we treat people seeking refuge says a lot about who we are. If you look at how the public has responded to people fleeing danger over the past year, it’s clear our communities are compassionate and want to help. In just 10 days in March, over 200,000 people signed up to welcome Ukrainians into their homes – that’s more people seeking refuge than this government has welcomed here in 10 years. If you look at Afghanistan, there has been a hugely open-hearted response from the British public, with many calling on the government to welcome more Afghans here. So I think it’s absolutely right to say this government is out of step with the British people here. Over the past year we’ve seen our communities model the welcome and care which people seeking asylum need. There is eagerness and capacity to help – it’s time this government recognised that and created asylum rules that gave people safe ways of getting here and a chance to rebuild their lives in our communities.

ATTACK: Is this policy even legal under our obligations to the refugee convention?

RESPONSE: Everyone has the right to seek asylum, to rebuild their life and access new opportunities in a different country, regardless of race, religion, sexuality or background – the refugee convention recognises this right and our government should respect that. But this is about more than just a question of legality, this is about a government that wants to permanently ship Black and brown people seeking asylum here halfway across the world. This is a cruel and racist policy which has no place in our asylum system. And while we’ve already begun to see legal challenges against the plans, we’re also seeing people across the country stand up and raise their voices against the scheme. From councillors and archbishops to teachers and people seeking asylum themselves, up and down the country we’re seeing people condemn this government’s attempts to divide our communities, and treat people with contempt. The movement for compassion and welcome is growing. It is these principles that will win out – not this government’s heartless asylum plans.

ATTACK: But there is a problem with small boats and the danger of those channel crossings. What is the solution if not offshoring?

RESPONSE: Let’s remember that the people on these boats are people who want to rebuild their lives and be reunited with loved ones. Over the past few years we’ve seen this government shut down the few safe routes that existed – like the Syrian resettlement scheme – and do next to nothing to facilitate safe journeys here. Instead they’ve been all too happy to brandish cruelty towards refugees as a way to score headlines and political points, and put people’s lives at risk in the process. If this government were serious about preventing perilous crossings and saving lives, it would establish safe and accessible routes to asylum in the UK now, like humanitarian visas and expanded family reunion rights. These routes would give people a travel document, allowing them to come here safely by train, plane or ferry. 


NB: Opinion polling only ever gives us a ‘snapshot’ of where public thinking is at. We offer these insights to provide a baseline and to help inform strategic comms decisions about how to shift public opinion – rather than play to it. 

The public are split over this policy – but more punitive articulations of the policy appear to yield lower levels of support.

No poll to date has shown a majority for or against the scheme – no matter how it is framed. However, more draconian articulations of the policy seem to yield lower levels of support YouGov found 35% support and 42% opposed, presenting it as an offshoring scheme. ComRes/Savanta found 42% support and 21% opposition asking a softer question “to send some who apply for asylum in the UK to fly to Rwanda to have their applications processed”. Opinium found 38% support and 32% opposition, though by 29% to 52% the same respondents thought it was poor value for money. The leading question “Do you agree or disagree with the government’s plans to send to Rwanda those asylum seekers who are single men and cross the Channel by boat or lorry?” (asked by Find out Now and Electoral Calculus for the Telegraph) only secured 32% support and 26% opposition.

Additional Resources