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“We need a respectful, mutual listening, free of ideology and predetermined agendas.” Pope Francis, Let us Dream, December 2020

Celebrities urge UK to open its door to Calais refugee children

Over 100 celebrities have called on Prime Minister David Cameron to help save children based at the Jungle Camp in Calais, with some stars travelling to the camp in an effort to raise awareness over the plight of people forced to live there.

In an open letter to the Prime Minister, the 145 famous signatories asked him to step in and allow unaccompanied children living in the Jungle to be reunited with their families in the UK.

Their plea came as the French authorities were planning to demolish the southern part of the Jungle, a section of the camp predominantly occupied by unaccompanied children and families. However, this decision has now been put on hold after local judge Valérie Quémener said she had “a real problem” reconciling the number of refugees and migrants the Calais authorities said were living in the camp with figures presented by aid agencies and NGOs working there.

The celebrities’ letter was calling for a more humanitarian approach to be taken towards a group of people who have said they want to settle in the UK: “The recent announcement by the Calais prefecture that it wants to raze the southern part of the ‘Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais is an act that, if allowed to happen, will destroy the temporary homes of over 3,000 people including 443 children,” read the letter, signed by a host of famous faces, including actors Idris Elba, Helena Bonham Carter and Benedict Cumberbatch.

“Many of these people are among the most vulnerable in the camps as this is where the majority of families and unaccompanied minors currently live.”
Charity Citizens UK has identified hundreds of unaccompanied minors in Calais who have valid legal claims to have their asylum applications processed in the UK. The first of these cases was heard in the UK courts last month, with the court ruling the children should legally be reunited with family in the UK while their asylum cases were processed.

Last weekend, actors Jude Law and Toby Jones, singer Tom Odell, actress Juliet Stevenson, playwright Sir Tom Stoppard and comedians Shappi Khorsandi and Matt Berry, all of whom had signed the letter to the Prime Minister, were among a group of stars that took to the stage at the Jungle camp in a bid to raise the plight of refugees.

“It’s our responsibility as humans to look after our children,” said Hollywood star Jude Law. “The children in the camp at Calais need us. It isn’t a big ask. It is simply the right thing to do.”

Odell, who played alongside other musicians in the camp, described it as “one of the most humbling and inspiring experiences of my life”.

A number of displaced refugees also performed at the event, which was held in support of aid organisation Help Refugees. “We are ordinary people who want to live a peaceful life,” said Afghan refugee, Taj. “Please open your hearts and borders to us.”

The plans to demolish the migrants’ camp have become stuck in the French judicial system, after the local prefecture of the Pas de Calais region, Fabienne Buccio, ordered the evacuation and demolition of the seven-hectare (17.5-acre) southern part of the sprawling, mud-covered shantytown.

But a detailed census carried out last week by charities the L’Auberge des Migrants and Help Refugees recorded 3,455 refugees and migrants living there – more than three times the prefecture’s estimate of 800-1,000.

Annie Gavrilescu, who helped run the survey, said it had established that 445 children were living in the camp, of which 305 were unaccompanied. At least 90 of the children told the charities’ census-takers that they have relatives living in Britain, she added.

The charity joined with others to file an urgent appeal asking for the planned evacuation and demolition to be postponed until safe and appropriate alternatives had been found for its residents, particularly unaccompanied minors, or risk breaching their fundamental rights.

The postponement was greeted with relief by aid workes. “This is good news – for the time being,” said Maya Konforti of L’Auberge des Migrants after the hearing. “This camp cannot be destroyed until real solutions have been found for the people who live there. Demolishing the Jungle in Calais will just create lots of little Jungles all along the coast.”

The prefect’s decision was based on the need to improve the refugees’ squalid living conditions and reduce “concerning” levels of violence in in the camp. Aid workers said it was ”a matter of human dignity” that the demolition be stopped.

Josie Naughton, co-founder of Help Refugees, said she hoped the judge would show compassion, particularly for the children. “These children have post-traumatic stress issues, they are terribly vulnerable,” she said.

The signatories of the open letter are: Adam Ackland, Adam Selves, Alan Cumming, Ali Smith, Alice Temperley, Andrew O’Hagan, Antony Gormley, Anthony Grayling, Azzi Glasser, Barbara Broccoli, Beeban Kidron, Benedict Cumberbatch, Bianca Jagger, Bob Geldof, Brian Eno, Brian May, Brian Message, Chris O’Dowd, Chris Riddell, Sir Christopher Bland, Claire Van Kampen, Clare Morpurgo, Clare Short, Colm Toibin, Crispin Somerville, Danielle Lawrence, Danny Boyle, David Gilmore, David Lan, Dawn O’Porter, Dominic Cooper, Dominic Dromgoole, Douglas Booth, Elif Shafak, Emma Freud, Frank Cottrell Boyce, Frankie Boyle, Gary Linkeker, George Gabriel, Gillian Anderson, Greg Williams, Hanif Kureishi, Hari Kunzru, Harriet Walter, Helena Bonham Carter, Helena Kennedy QC, Heydon Prowse, Ian McEwan, Ian Rickson, Idris Elba, Irvine Welsh, Jamie Byng, Jamie Catto, James Rhodes, Jeanette Winterson, Jefferson Hack, Jemima Khan, Jeremy Thomas, Jessica Hynes, Jim Broadbent, Joe Murphy, Joe Robertson, Johann Hari, John Hurt, John Tiffany, Jolyon Rubinstein, Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, Josie Naugton, Jude Kelly, Jude Law, Juliet Stevenson, Lee Hall, Lemn Sissay, Lliana Bird, Kamila Shamsie, Katharine Hamnett, Kellie Bright, Kirkland Newman Smulders, Dame Kristin Scott Thomas, Liz Saville-Roberts, Maddy Hill, Marc Quinn, Maria Friedman, Mariella Frostrup, Mark Cousins, Mark Rylance, Mark Tildesley, Matt Berry, Matt Haig, Michael Morpurgo, Michel Faber, Misha Glenny, Natalia Koliada, Neil Gaiman, Nick Hornby, Nikolai Khalezin, Noel Fielding, Noomi Rapace, Ol Parker, Omid Djalili, Patrick Smulders, Peter Gabriel, Philip Pullman, Philippe Sands QC, Polly Samson, Richard Branson, Richard Curtis, Sir Richard Eyre, Richard Holloway, Rick Smith, Riz Ahmed, Rob Brydon, Roger Waters, Rowan Williams, Russell Brand, Russell T Davies, Sabrina Stoppard, Sam Hunter, Sandi Toksvig, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Shami Chakrabarti, Shappi Khorsandi, Shaun Usher, Sigrid Rausing, Simon McBurney, Simon Pegg, Sonia Friedman, Sophie Okonedo, Stephen Daldry, Stephen Frears, Stephen Fry, Stephen Mangan, Steve Coogan, Tahmima Anam, Terry Gilliam, Thandie Newton, Toby Jones, Tom Holland, Tom Odell, Sir Tom Stoppard, Tracey Seaward, Val McDermid, Yann Martel, Yusuf/Cat Stevens.