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© UNHCR/Andrew McConnell

Olivia Colman, Brian Cox and Juliet Stevenson, support national Day of Action

While the invasion of Ukraine has led to 3.5 million refugees and MPs are about to vote on the Nationality and Borders Bill, hundreds of groups and individuals from across the whole of the UK are showing solidarity with people fleeing war and persecution today, 21st of March.

Actors Olivia Colman, Brian Cox and Juliet Stevenson joined the day of action and are calling on the British public to email their MPs urging them to vote for amendments to the bill. “Right across the UK people are opening up their homes and their hearts to refugees”, says Juliet Stevenson. “Giving sanctuary to families fleeing the daily horrors we see on our TV screens. Their plight has touched the nation and the British public has risen to the challenge.”

Tying in with the landmark theme and as an act of protest, Juliet Stevenson’s film was projected on Tower Bridge last night by coalition member, Freedom from Torture.

A large-scale vinyl installation heart on the viewing platform building of BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, a Gallery of Sanctuary in Gateshead

As part of the activity scheduled to take place orange hearts – the symbol of a fairer, kinder and more effective approach to refugees (1) – will be on display at iconic landmarks across the country, including a flotilla of ferry boats in Bristol and a large-scale vinyl installation on the front building of BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, a Gallery of Sanctuary in Gateshead. Many other buildings throughout the UK are lighting up orange to show their support for a more compassionate approach to refugees, including Cardiff Castle and the Penshaw Monument in Sunderland.

A Change.org petition started by coalition member, Freedom from Torture, urging the government to provide greater help for Ukrainian refugees has already gained almost 200,000 signatures and will be presented to Number 10 on Monday.

Despite the overwhelming support offered to refugees from British people, including the huge numbers signing up to the ‘Home for Ukraine’ scheme, the government is continuing to push ahead with the inhumane Nationality and Borders Bill, which will have severe consequences for people seeking safety in the UK.

This bill, if enacted, would criminalise refugees who arrive in the country without papers. MPs will be voting on the bill on Tuesday 22nd of March.

“The new Nationality and Borders bill is set to make things a whole lot worse. Not just for Ukrainians, but for all refugees. Imagine threatening them with imprisonment or sending them to a detention camp in a country thousands of miles away. But there is something you can do.”

Sabir Zazai, Chief Executive of the Scottish Refugee Council, speaking on behalf of the Together With Refugees coalition said: “Twenty two years ago this country welcomed me as a refugee. Today, people across the UK are showing their support for a more compassionate approach to refugees.

“The government has failed to catch up with the public outpouring of support for people fleeing the war in Ukraine and is pushing ahead with the Nationality and Borders Bill. Tomorrow, MPs will vote on the bill, which if passed would criminalise refugees from Ukraine and all other countries who seek safety in the UK other than via specific pre-arranged schemes. I would have been stopped from finding refugee protection had this law been in place when I fled the war in Afghanistan.

“I now plead to all MPs from across the political spectrum to do the right thing and use their vote to stand together with refugees and vote against measures that would criminalise people like me and many others seeking sanctuary here.”
Across the UK events are taking place to show orange hearts – the symbol of a fairer, kinder and more effective approach to refugees – at iconic landmarks.

Lesia Scholey, a member of the Ukrainian diaspora in Britain and campaigner who is currently working to help Ukrainian refugees find safety, said: “The British government requirement for vast amounts of documentation and online form filling is unreasonable — people who are fleeing a bombed home aren’t necessarily going to have documents. Young children or older people may not have passports. Even the thought of filling in an online form presupposes that people have computers or phones and access to Wifi.

“If in the next five minutes, you had to leave your home and rush to safety, knowing it may be months and could take you abroad, would you even have enough time to pack? Would you remember your phone? People need to understand that those fleeing war may only have split seconds to make life decisions.

“By definition, fleeing means you don’t have a grand plan. People are crossing borders, then trying to work out what to do next. The immigration process is for people who have a plan, but none of these people wanted to leave their homes, they are being forced out against their will.”

Whilst the Homes for Ukraine scheme is a positive step to supporting Ukrainian refugees, Together With Refugees is calling for immediate measures to be put in place to ensure Ukrainian refugees can come to the UK safely, without visas, to claim refugee protection if they wish. We also urge MPs to back amendments to the bill, which were passed by the House of Lords, to resettle a minimum of 10,000 refugees globally in the UK and for an end to clause 11 – which would punish refugees on the basis of how they arrive, regardless of the dangers they are fleeing from.