Lily Cole: Government’s Rwanda asylum plan ‘like something in a dystopian film’

Celebrities, refugees and campaigners gathered on a boat outside the Houses of Parliament to send a message to MPs.

Summer Goodkind
Wednesday 20 April 2022 13:24 BST
Lily Cole (Tim Ireland/PA)
Lily Cole (Tim Ireland/PA) (PA Archive)

Model and actress Lily Cole has likened the Government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda to “something you’d see in a dystopian film” as she joined a protest on the Thames.

Cole was among celebrities, refugees and campaigners who gathered on a boat which sailed past the Houses of Parliament on Wednesday to send a message to MPs to “vote to protect not punish refugees” as the Nationality and Borders Bill was set to be voted on in the Commons.

Speaking to the PA news agency, Cole said she was “so shocked” to hear of the plan.

The idea that we’d be punishing refugees and criminalising them feels like it belongs in a book, not reality

Lily Cole

She said: “It felt to me surreal and something you’d see in a dystopian film, not actual policy today, and so not representative of the sentiment of goodwill that I know exists in this country, where there are so many people in the British public that believe the UK should be offering sanctuary to those seeking refuge.

“The idea that we’d be punishing refugees and criminalising them feels like it belongs in a book, not reality.

“We need to make sure they don’t pass the most draconian aspects of this Bill.”

Actress Juliet Stevenson joined the convoy with the Ukrainian refugee family she is hosting at her home in London.

She said people who have bombs falling on their homes and are desperate to escape would not have time to find a government programme to get out.

“It’s brutal and unrealistic,” she told PA.

Stevenson, 65, is backing changes to the Bill called for by Together With Refugees, a coalition of almost 500 national and local charities across the UK which spearheaded the event.

The group wants the UK to commit to resettle at least 10,000 refugees from around the world every year and to scrap a clause which would “punish” refugees who have not arrived in the country through official routes.

It also wants to see immediate measures to enable Ukrainian refugees to get to the country safely without having to apply for visas first.

Cole said: “You’re dealing with people fleeing from war and persecution and they often don’t even want to be here. They’re not choosing to leave their homes and the idea of criminalising them feels completely awful.

“That’s why I wanted to come here and hold a moral line that says ‘no, there’s some lines that can’t be crossed and this is one of them’.”

Stevenson added that she often simplifies it for others by saying: “What if it were you? What if it were one of us?”

Juliet Stevenson (Together With Refugees/PA) (PA Media)

She said democracy is not a spectator sport and called for people to protest against the proposals that she said were not representative of the British public.

Stevenson and her husband have offered one of their adult children’s bedrooms to a Ukrainian mother and her six-year-old daughter, who moved in last month.

Dartsia, the Ukrainian mother, said: “The people in the world who experience it know it’s hell. You can only run and you don’t have time to seek formal help.

“I am so happy and I consider myself the luckiest person in the world to have met Juliet and have her support.”

Dartsia and her daughter Orysia “desperately” want to return home to Kyiv, where the husband and father has remained to fight, Stevenson said.

She added: “I check my phone as we all do to see what’s come in on Instagram and Dartsia is checking to see if her mum and dad are still alive. It’s a big reality check.

“Hundreds of thousands of people have offered their homes and I don’t think this law or the Rwanda scheme is representative of people in this country that want to help. They just need refuge for now – even Dartsia is desperate to get home.”

Also at the protest was Sabir Zazai, chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council.

Mr Zazai, who arrived from Afghanistan 17 years ago, said that if he arrived under these circumstances, he would not have his family or be a part of society.

He said: “People arrive here in the UK to seek protection, not Rwanda, where they are sent as a group of people to be forgotten about.

“It’s not for the UK to use vulnerable human beings who are fleeing war to be put on a plane, re-traumatised and dumped in another country.

“We can’t shut the door on people when they need help most.

“People come from all backgrounds and they bring their unique gifts, talents, courage and resilience which contributes to the UK. We shouldn’t be missing out on that, we should be harvesting and investing in it.”

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