Some of Britain’s biggest cultural stars, including Olivia Colman, Michaela Coel and Stephen Fry, are calling on the government to establish safe and legal routes for asylum seekers to reach the UK.
More than 70 high-profile actors, musicians, comedians, artists and sports players have sent a letter, seen by the Guardian, to the prime minister demanding a change to the UK’s restrictive refugee family reunion laws.
Current rules only allow adult refugees to apply for their spouses or children under 18 to join them; children recognised as refugees in the UK can not apply for their parents or siblings aged over 18 to accompany them.
Patrick Stewart, Chiwetel Ejiofor, the band Coldplay, Jessie Ware and Gary Lineker are also among the 70-plus celebrities to back the Families Together coalition, which includes among others Amnesty International UK, British Red Cross, Refugee Council and the UN Refugee Agency, in calling for a relaxation of this rule. The coalition has launched a new petition on the issue.
Lineker told the Guardian: “There are children in the UK right now who have fled war and persecution and have no hope of seeing their parents or siblings again. We should be offering them support and compassion. A simple change to the rules could be transformational.”
Helen Mirren, Joanna Lumley, Adrian Lester, Kate Moss, Riz Ahmed and Nish Kumar are among the other signatories to the letter. It reads: “For some children in the UK, being kept apart from the parents they so desperately need is an everyday reality – pandemic or not.
“These children are vulnerable. They have been recognised as refugees by our government, having fled war or persecution – dangers and horrors most of us will never be able to imagine.
“But the UK’s current refugee family reunion rules say that these vulnerable child refugees cannot be reunited with their family members.”
The action comes at a time of increased tension over the UK’s asylum policy. Nearly 7,000 migrants have arrived in the UK in small boats across the Channel so far this year, more than three times the number of arrivals in the whole of 2019.
Humanitarian groups and migration experts have been calling for safe and legal routes to be established to reduce the number of people risking their lives at sea to reach the UK.
The government could consider strengthening existing family reunion rules, provide places for child refugees under the so-called Dubs scheme, or develop humanitarian visas that would give people advance permission to enter the UK to claim asylum.
But the government is persisting with a hardline approach to the arrivals in an attempt to make the route across the Channel “unviable”. Over the summer, RAF aircraft were launched over the Dover Strait to assist Border Force, which Labour said was an attempt to “militarise a response to a humanitarian crisis”.
Merhawi Hagos, 18, a refugee from Eritrea, said: “I was separated from my mother when I was 14 years old. I had an extremely difficult asylum journey to come to the UK and thankfully I was granted refugee status two years ago.
“But I found the experience of living without a family to be unbearable and a situation I would not wish upon anyone. I struggle to lead a normal life: cannot plan, cannot focus on my studies or work. I feel lonely, and depressed and do not sleep well.
“My family are in a refugee camp in Ethiopia. The camp is not secure and safe. I’m imploring the UK government to change the family reunion rules so that young refugees like myself can be together with their families in the UK.”