Actors, TV personalities and campaigners call for scrapping of Rwanda scheme

Succession star Brian Cox and television presenter Gary Lineker are among high-profile signatories to a letter calling for the Government to scrap its Rwanda scheme and for political leaders to come up with a “fair new plan for refugees”.

They branded Britain’s refugee system “ever-more uncaring, chaotic and costly”, and said asylum policies are not working.

The correspondence, also signed by women’s rights campaigner Helen Pankhurst, Hotel Rwanda star Sophie Okonedo and television chef Big Zuu, who is the son of a refugee from Sierra Leone, comes in the week MPs will debate and vote on the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill.

TV chef Big Zuu said his personal experience of the asylum system has made him passionate about the issue (Zac Goodwin/PA)
TV chef Big Zuu said his personal experience of the asylum system has made him passionate about the issue (Zac Goodwin/PA)

The Government hopes to rush emergency legislation through Parliament declaring Rwanda a safe destination for asylum seekers, after the Supreme Court last month ruled against the scheme.

The letter, co-ordinated by campaign coalition Together With Refugees, stated: “Our Government is still trying to banish people fleeing persecution to Rwanda despite the highest court in the land ruling the scheme unlawful.

“Tens of thousands of people are stuck in limbo waiting for their refugee protection to be processed, separated from their families and barred from working.

“These policies aren’t working for refugees and they aren’t working for local communities.

“That’s why we have come together to say we’ve had enough. Enough of the division. Enough of the short-term thinking. Enough of the wasted human potential. And it’s why we now call for something better.”

Signatories said they are “calling on you, our political leaders of all parties, to commit to a fair new plan for refugees” which includes upholding the UK’s commitment under international law to the right to claim asylum and scrapping the Rwanda scheme.

The letter, marking the launch of the coalition’s Fair Begins Here campaign, also urged a “proper strategy for welcoming and integrating refugees” through “fair, rapid decisions on their application for asylum” and stronger global co-operation “to tackle the root causes that force people to flee their homes and provides positive solutions when they do, including through safe routes to refugee protection”.

Together With Refugees said polling has shown less than a fifth (18%) of people think the Government’s approach to the asylum system is working well, rising to just over a quarter (28%) of respondents who intend to vote Conservative at the next election.

Overall, 83% of the 1,014 adult respondents to the Focaldata polling from last week said they want an asylum system that is well managed, fair and compassionate.

Former England footballer Lineker, who has been outspoken on the issue of the Government’s attitude to refugees, said: “We need a new system that reflects the will of the British people who have opened their homes, donated and volunteered in their local communities.

“That’s why I’m backing this new campaign – because fair really can begin here.”

Another signatory, former head of the British Army Lord Dannatt, said the “dogged pursuit of the unpopular plan to send people seeking protection to Rwanda is astonishing” and described a “failure to fully support Afghans fleeing the Taliban” as “shameful”.

Big Zuu said his personal experience makes the issue especially important to him.

He said: “I know what it’s like to be a child in the asylum system in the UK.  Me and my mum had some good support when we were first here, but it wasn’t easy.

“I know it’s even tougher today, being a refugee in this country now is almost impossible. But it doesn’t have to be like this.

“Being part of this campaign is so important to me and many of the people I grew up with. We experienced the reality and we know politicians can do better.”