More than 40 celebrities have written to Boris Johnson calling for a kinder, fairer and more effective asylum system while his government seeks to impose new “anti-refugee” immigration laws.
Actors Olivia Colman, Joanna Lumley and Stephen Fry are among the famous arts and media personalities to have signed an open letter calling on the Prime Minister to “think again” on the Nationality and Borders Bill that is making its way through Parliament.
The letter, organised by the coalition of campaign groups Together With Refugees, calls on Mr Johnson to do more to help refugees.
They said: “We are refugees, descendants of refugees and supporters of refugees. For some of us, if we were living in Afghanistan right now, our lives could be in danger, and we would have to become refugees.
“We are proud the UK is offering protection to those Afghan refugees able to get onto an official scheme. People up and down the country are doing incredible things to make them welcome as they start their new lives.
“But many others have been left behind in grave danger. They will have to escape any way they can – by foot, boat or hiding in the back of a lorry. But proposed new laws would mean our country turning away people like them who are in desperate need of safety.
“As a nation we must – and can – do more. That’s why we are backing Together With Refugees’ call for a kinder, fairer and more effective system for refugees in the UK.
“Now is not the time to turn them away. Now is the time to offer our hand in kindness and protection. We urge you to think again.”
Signatories also include fellow actors Fiona Shaw, Simon Callow, Imelda Staunton, Zoe Wanamaker and Thandiwe Newton, the band Kaiser Chiefs, TV personalities Robert Rinder and Gok Wan, as well as comedians Romesh Ranganathan, Frankie Boyle and Shaparak “Shappi” Khorsandi.
Ms Khorsandi said: “I had to flee from Iran with my family when I was a child when my father’s life was in danger, just because he is a popular humorist who opposed those in power.
“It’s horrendous to think of the many more people all over the world, including Afghanistan, living in fear for their lives just because of who they are or what they say.
“I can’t imagine what would have happened if my family hadn’t been welcomed here in the UK.
“We must not turn our back on those who have struggled to reach our shores in need of safety. The Prime Minister must oppose this anti-refugee Bill.”
Mr Rinder said: “In 1945 my grandfather arrived in the UK as a child refugee from the hell of the Holocaust.
“We can help provide sanctuary to those in danger now who have overcome terrible struggles to find their way to safety and freedom. This is what our country is at its very best. We must not turn our backs.”
Protests, demonstrations and other events have been taking place this week in several parts of the UK against home secretary Priti Patel’s proposed laws, which campaigners have dubbed the “anti-refugee Bill”.
Ms Patel has defended the Bill by saying it would create a “firm but fair” asylum system to allow a post-Brexit Britain to “take full control of its borders”.
She also said the proposed laws would “break the business model” of people-smuggling gangs after record numbers of migrants have crossed the English Channel in small boats.
On Wednesday, Lord Alfred Dubs told a crowd at a large pro-refugee rally in Parliament Square that he hoped the Bill will be defeated by the House of Lords in the later stages.
Lord Dubs, who was one of the 669 children saved from Nazi-occupied Prague in then-Czechoslovakia, said the Bill “make criminal of the refugees seeking safety” if they knowingly arrive in the UK without permission and the right paperwork.
This means that the Bill – currently at the committee stage in the House of Commons – could, for the first time, allow an “illegal” entry into the UK to impact an asylum case and the subsequent immigration status of a person if their claim is successful.
It would also give the government extended rights to deport migrants who did not arrive in the UK with the necessary documents.