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Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Emma Thompson: It is our duty of care to receive refugees fleeing jaws of death

Written by Katrine Bussey

Actress and campaigner Emma Thompson has accused the UK Government of a "death of compassion" in its treatment of refugees, insisting Britain has a duty of care towards people who are fleeing "from the jaws of death".

The two time Oscar winner said offering a new home to refugees could make the country "infinitely richer" and "infinitely more human".

She spoke out as she collected a cheque for £500,000 from the People's Postcode Lottery for the Helen Bamber Foundation, which works with asylum seekers and refugees, including those who have suffered from torture and human trafficking.

Ms Bamber set up the charity to provide care, safety and dignity to those who had nowhere else to turn with Thompson, the organisation's president, telling how she had been inspired to become involved.

Speaking to the Press Association ahead of a People's Postcode Lottery charity gala in Edinburgh, the actress recalled: "I met Helen when I was in my 20s, she was dealing largely with people who had been tortured by state security in places like Argentina and Chile.

"I suppose she opened my eyes to an awful lot of things, when I was very young actually.

"She taught me about what she used to describe as the death of compassion, and that people do forget quite quickly about populations that require our compassion."

Thompson said "we can't keep relying on charities to do the work of governments, actually".

When asked if there had been a "death of compassion" from the UK Government, she replied: "Absolutely."

Thompson spoke of her adopted son Tindyebwa Agaba, describing his reaction to the closure of the Dubs scheme for bringing child refugees to the UK.

It emerged last year the initiative, which required the Government to resettle an unspecified number of unaccompanied minors from Europe, would close after 480 were brought to the UK - well below the 3,000 campaigners had called for.

Thompson said: "My son is an ex refugee he said the Alf Dubs amendment and the overturning of that, that was one of the most shameful episodes

in our history of acceptance of refugees in this country.

"It is our duty of care to receive people who are flying from death, from the jaws of death and the way in which we receive them is hugely important.

"And when we receive them well they give so much back, it's very extraordinary."

The actress added: "We do live in complicated times and there is complicated sets of messaging go out.

"So the only way I can talk about it with any effectiveness is by describing my personal experiences with people who have come from the jaws of death, what they mean to me, how I have seen them change, how I have seen them recover, what they offer our society, making it infinitely richer, making us - because of our acts of compassion - infinitely more human, more humane, more capable of more love."

She thanked the People's Postcode Lottery for their donation - the first it has given to the Helen Bamber Foundation.

"It's a fantastic gift, it's sort of a third of our budget actually," Thompson said.

"I've spent my life fundraising for Helen Bamber, and indeed just using my own money when we were really up against it. If I had any money that was what we would use.

"The oxygen and the inspiration and the hope that that money has given our organisation just can not be overstated."

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Jane Barlow / PA Wire.