Actress Juliet Stevenson has said she is moved to tears daily by the courage of the Ukrainian refugees she has welcomed into her home, as she condemned the Government’s “extremely harsh and cruel” immigration Bill.
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 week.
The Nationality and Borders Bill being debated in Commons is out of step with the generosity that more than 150,000 members of the public have shown in wishing to offer refuge to Ukrainian families forced to flee the conflict, she said.
She told the PA news agency: “I think it is a Bill that entirely lacks compassion or justice and fairness, and I think it’s not at all in step with what the British people are feeling at the moment.
“There’s been this amazing outpouring of agonised concern about what people are going through in Ukraine, and people in this country have opened up their hearts and their homes, there’s hundreds of thousands of people offering refuge in our own homes to Ukrainian refugees, and this Bill seeks to really criminalise the whole process of seeking asylum.”
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.
It 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.
Stevenson continued: “What we have to remember is that it is a legal right in international law to seek asylum.
“We’ve seen nightly, every day on our screens, what the people of Ukraine, for example, are enduring, their homes being bombed, their schools, their hospitals – it’s unthinkable.
“Well, that’s also going on in other places in the world, which we don’t see so often on our screen. So I think that this Bill is extremely harsh and cruel.”
Stevenson was put in touch with the Ukrainians she has taken in through a friend who runs a theatre company in Belarus.
The mother and daughter arrived on a tourist visa several weeks ago and are applying for visas under the Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme, which opened on Friday.
She has spent the last few days showing them around the local area so they know about the nearest doctor’s surgery, the library, charity shops, parks, the bus system and how the Tube works.
She said her north London neighbours have been fantastic, rallying around the new arrivals and turning up at the door with toys and offering their time.
The girl is having remote lessons taught by teachers from her school in Kyiv, and will be helped with her English by a neighbour’s daughter.
Stevenson said the six-year-old already “adores” the family dog and has been helping with walks.
They “desperately” want to return home to Kyiv, where the husband and father has remained to fight, Stevenson said.
She added: “Every time she (the mother) checks her phone, she’s checking to see whether he’s alive.
“I check my phone to see if I’ve got a new email, or how many likes I’ve got on Instagram.”
She considers herself “lucky” to have them in her home, and said the rooms will be available for “as long as they need them”.
She added: “They make me cry every day because they’re so courageous, and they want to help and they want to cook and they’re just really lovely, lovely people, and they’re just like us.
“I just think, oh my god, you know, what would it be like, it could so easily be the other way around.”
Stevenson said the Bill and the complicated visa process for Ukrainians “threatens” the UK’s reputation on the international stage.
She said: “Just get people out of danger. Let them come here… then we can do the paperwork and the bureaucracy, but to make them go through all this while they’re trying to flee from danger, or they’re living in very, very difficult conditions in ‘nowhere land’, as it were, on the move, it’s so cruel, it’s so brutal.
“And I don’t believe that’s the national identity, I don’t think that’s who we are. I think we’re a decent, more decent lot, and I think that it matters to people to feel they can hold their heads up in the international community and say, ‘Yeah, we did our bit’.”
Fellow actress Olivia Colman also spoke out, saying she “desperately hopes” people email their MP voicing their opposition to the Bill.
She said: “I don’t want to be part of a country where our Government treats people with such cruelty.
“Going ahead with the proposals in this Bill would bring such shame on the UK and we must all do what we can to stop it.
“As we all watch what is happening to Ukrainians now, it is clearer than ever that we must treat refugees with compassion.”
Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said the Bill “would harm thousands of people who come to this country desperately needing safety – including those fleeing bombing and shelling in Ukraine this very minute”.
He added: “The public clearly want to see refugees treated with decency and fairness, not criminalised, ignored or driven away.”
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “The UK has a long history of supporting those fleeing conflict and our resettlement programmes have provided safe and legal routes for tens of thousands of people to start new lives in the UK.
“Protecting the most vulnerable will always be our top priority. Through the Nationality and Borders Bill, we will ensure a firm but fair system, helping those in genuine need while tackling people-smuggling gangs.”