UK celebrities urge PM to think again on asylum reforms

Forty figures from stage, screen, music and journalism sign open letter

Celebrities have written to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling for a kinder, fairer and more effective asylum system.

Actors Olivia Colman, Joanna Lumley and Stephen Fry are among 40 figures from stage, screen, music and journalism to sign an open letter to Mr Johnson, urging him to rethink the UK’s planned asylum reforms and do more to help refugees.

“We are refugees, descendants of refugees and supporters of refugees," they say in a letter, organised by the coalition of campaign groups Together With Refugees as the government’s Nationality and Borders Bill makes its way through Parliament.

“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 on to 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: actors Fiona Shaw, Simon Callow, Imelda Staunton, Zoe Wanamaker and Thandiwe Newton; the band Kaiser Chiefs; television personalities Robert Rinder and Gok Wan; and comedians Romesh Ranganathan, Frankie Boyle and Shaparak Khorsandi, also known as Shappi.

“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," Khorsandi said.

“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.”

Rinder said: “We must oppose this Bill currently going through Parliament. In 1945 my grandfather arrived in the UK as a child refugee from the hell of the Holocaust.

“We can help to 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 are taking place this week around the country against the proposed laws.

The Bill intends to make it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK without permission.

This means that, for the first time, how someone enters the UK, legally or illegally, will affect how their asylum claim progresses, and their status in the UK if the claim is successful.

Updated: October 22, 2021, 5:31 AM