Some of Britain’s biggest stars are calling on the Government to establish safe and legal routes for asylum seekers to reach the UK.
More than 70 actors, singers, comedians, authors, artists and sports stars, have sent a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson urging him to reunite refugee families.
High-profile names, including Sir Patrick Stewart, Olivia Colman, Dame Emma Thompson and Gary Lineker, have backed the open letter in support of the Families Together coalition’s campaign to change the UK’s refugee family reunion rules.
Current rules allow adult refugees to sponsor their immediate family members to join them, while child refugees are unable to do the same.
Writing to Mr Johnson, the celebrities, including model Kate Moss, film-maker Richard Curtis and the band Coldplay, called for him to ‘change lives’ with the ‘stroke of a pen’.
They wrote: ‘Coronavirus has made us all acutely aware of how painful it is to be separated from our loved ones. But we know this separation is temporary. Sadly, this is not the case for everybody.
‘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,’ the stars, including Dame Helen Mirren, Joanna Lumley and Adrian Lester, stress.
‘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 Families Together coalition, made up of more than 50 organisations including Care4Calais, British Red Cross, Refugee Council and the UN Refugee Agency, is calling for child refugees to be able to sponsor their parents and siblings under the age of 25 as well as other measures.
It also calls for the reintroduction of legal aid for refugee family reunion.
Lineker said: “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.”
Merhawi Hagos, an 18-year-old 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.”
Laura Padoan, co-chairwoman at the Families Together coalition, said: “Lockdown for many of us has meant separation from our loved ones.
“This is a heartbreak all too familiar for many refugee families who for too long have been kept apart due to overly restrictive UK rules.
“Today high-profile stars are sending a message loud and clear to the Prime Minister – families belong together.”
For more information on the Families Together coalition, see: https://familiestogether.uk
Picture: Children from Oaklands Secondary School in Bethnal Green and Families Belong Together campaigners in Westminster, London, holding multi-coloured letters spelling out ‘Families Belong Together’. (Philip Toscano/PA).