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PRESS RELEASE: Gary Lineker, Lord Dannatt and other famous faces sign open letter on launch of refugee campaign

11 December 2023 

General Lord Richard Dannatt, Gary Lineker, Sophie Okonedo and Big Zuu are just some of the influential figures from across British society joining forces to call for a fair new plan for refugees in an open letter to party leaders today (11th December 2023) (1).  The letter, published in the week MPs are expected to vote on the government’s proposed legislation on the Rwanda scheme, marks the launch of a new campaign, Fair Begins Here, from campaign coalition Together With Refugees.  

New polling, commissioned by Together With Refugees, reveals that fewer than 1 in 5 (18%) of the British public think the government’s approach to the asylum system is working well. This number increases to just 1 in 4 (28%) when only looking at respondents who intend to vote Conservative at the next election and decreases to 1 in 6 (16%) for those who intend to vote Labour (2).  

The Rwanda scheme is just one of many badly managed, uncaring and costly current refugee policies, which have led to a backlog of more than 109,000 cases waiting for a decision on their asylum claim and more than 55,000 people still living temporarily in hotel rooms (3).

With the poll (2) showing that 80% of the British public want an approach to the asylum system that is well managed, fair and compassionate, the campaign is calling for a fair and kind new plan for refugees that works for everyone (2).  It demonstrates how prominent people from across the UK and all parts of society support this call with signatories to the letter representing all areas of life including the BMA, UNISON, National Association of Head Teachers, faith leaders and stars of sport, stage and screen, and those with experience of being a refugee.  

The letter states: “Britain’s refugee system has become ever-more uncaring, chaotic and costly…These policies aren’t working for refugees and they aren’t working for local communities. That’s why we have come together to say we’ve had enough. Enough of the division. Enough of the short-term thinking. Enough of the wasted human potential. And it’s why we now call for something better.”

Actor Brian Cox, who signed the letter, said: “The UK’s asylum system is in a shambles – not least with the government’s continued attempts to push through the awful scheme to send people to Rwanda. We need a total rethink.  Political leaders must create a system that is not just properly managed but is fair and has compassion at its heart.”

Signatory General Lord Richard Dannatt, former head of the British Army, said: “It is clear that the current system for refugees in the UK is in a terrible mess. The dogged pursuit of the unpopular plan to send people seeking protection to Rwanda is astonishing.  The failure to fully support Afghans fleeing the Taliban is shameful. This country needs a proper plan – one that is fair for refugees and works for communities across Britain. This letter to party leaders has come at a critical time and I urge them to take serious note.  This chaos cannot be allowed to continue.”

TV presenter and former England football player, Gary Lineker, who has hosted refugees in his home, said: “Refugees have escaped unthinkable horrors in their home countries. We need a new system that reflects the will of the British people who have opened their homes, donated and volunteered in their local communities.  That’s why I’m backing this new campaign – because fair really can begin here.”

Actor David Morrissey said: “People from across the country and from all walks of life are tired of the current chaos in our refugee system. They believe people fleeing unimaginable horror should be treated with kindness and fairness. They want a system that offers protection and allows refugees to rebuild their lives in our communities. They want a system that works for everyone. That is why our political leaders need to finally start to listen.”

Dr Latifa Patel, BMA representative body chair, said: “As doctors our first concern is to care for patients irrespective of their arrival circumstances or origins. Evidence tells us that this Government’s shambolic approach to, and management of refugees and asylum seekers is adversely affecting their physical and mental health. Furthermore, our NHS is at breaking point, and we need all the help we can get – adding unnecessary barriers that hinder healthcare professionals and their families, who are refugees, from contributing to our health service is counterproductive and lacks a strategy. We need a new plan of action here – without a drastic overhaul of the entire asylum system, we run the risk of further harming both the physical and mental health of refugees and the UK’s international reputation.”

Sabir Zazai, Chair of Together With Refugees, CEO of Scottish Refugee Council and a former refugee (4), said: “I know what it’s like to flee in terror.  I know what it’s like to try and make your way to safety by whatever means possible. And I know what it’s like to try and rebuild your life in a completely strange land.  Now, in my work with refugees, I see a more compassionate Britain, where a rich tapestry of people from across the country go out of their way to show their support. They open their homes, they give huge amounts of their time, they speak out, they donate.  And as refugees we have so much to offer our new adopted home, given the chance.  This country needs a totally new start for our asylum system, one that we can all be proud of and that can work for everyone, those seeking sanctuary and those offering protection.”

TV Chef and personality, Big Zuu, lived in refugee accommodation as a baby as his mother had fled Sierra Leone when she was pregnant with him and sought asylum in the UK. He said: “I know what it’s like to be a child in the asylum system in the UK.  Me and my mum had some good support when we were first here, but it wasn’t easy.  And I know it’s even tougher today, being a refugee in this country now is almost impossible. But it doesn’t have to be like this.  Being part of this campaign is so important to me and many of the people I grew up with. We experienced the reality, and we know politicians can do better.” 

The Fair Begins Here campaign is calling for a fair new plan for refugees with:

  • Protection for people fleeing war and persecution by upholding the UK’s commitment under international law to the right to claim asylum and by scrapping the Rwanda scheme. 
  • A proper strategy for welcoming refugees by ensuring fair, rapid decisions on their application for asylum, and the chance to rebuild their lives through settling in a community, being allowed to work and the chance to learn English.  
  • Stronger global cooperation to tackle the root causes that force people to flee their homes and provides positive solutions when they do, including through safe routes to refugee protection.    

With more than 600 members of Together With Refugees – from large national organisations to small grassroots projects – the coalition will be taking the campaign to communities across the UK next year and bringing together the people of Britain to show their support.  

ENDS

Notes to editors

(1) Letter in full with list of signatories

Dear political leaders

Britain’s refugee system has become ever-more uncaring, chaotic and costly.

Our government is still trying to banish people fleeing persecution to Rwanda despite the highest court in the land ruling the scheme unlawful. Tens of thousands of people are stuck in limbo waiting for their refugee protection to be processed, separated from their families and barred from working.

These policies aren’t working for refugees and they aren’t working for local communities.
That’s why we have come together to say we’ve had enough. Enough of the division. Enough of the short-term thinking. Enough of the wasted human potential. And it’s why we now call for something better.

Given the chance, we know communities across our country go the extra mile to welcome refugees – opening their homes, volunteering, speaking up, donating. And, given the chance, refugees do so much to enrich our society as they build new lives.

So today, on the launch of Fair Begins Here, a new campaign from the Together With Refugees coalition, we are calling on you, our political leaders of all parties, to commit to a fair new plan for refugees that:

  • Ensures protection for people fleeing war and persecution by upholding the UK’s commitment under international law to the right to claim asylum and by scrapping the Rwanda scheme.
  • Provides a proper strategy for welcoming and integrating refugees by ensuring fair, rapid decisions on their application for asylum, and the chance to rebuild their lives through settling in a community, being allowed to work and the chance to learn English.
  • Forges stronger global cooperation to tackle the root causes that force people to flee their homes and provides positive solutions when they do, including through safe routes to refugee protection.

We invite people from all parts of society and corners of the country to join us in this call for a new plan for refugees – one that is fair, kind and gets the system working again, for everyone. Because fair begins here.

Rabbi Robyn Ashworth-Steen
Dr Nicola Brady, General Secretary, Churches Together in Britain and Ireland
Brian Cox CBE, actor
General The Lord Dannatt GCB CBE MC DL, former head of the British Army
Dr Sohail Hanif, CEO, National Zakat Foundation
Rabbi Herschel Gluck OBE, Chair and Founder of the Muslim-Jewish Forum
Martins Imhangbe, actor
Dr Ronx Ikharia, Emergency Medicine Doctor, NHS, TV presenter and activist
Simon Kidwell, President, National Association of Headteachers
Kathy Lette, author
Gary Lineker OBE, TV presenter and former England football player
Dr Saad Maida, Senior Registrar in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, NHS, and former refugee from Syria
Christina McAnea, General Secretary, UNISON
Sheikh Nuru Mohammed, Al-Abbas Islamic Centre, Birmingham
Zara Mohammed, Secretary-General, Muslim Council of Britain
Patrick Monahan, comedian and former refugee from Iran
David Morrissey, actor
Lucian Msamati, actor
Paul O’Connor, Head of Bargaining, The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS)
Sophie Okonedo CBE, actor
Helen Pankhurst CBE, writer and women’s rights campaigner
Dr Latifa Patel, Representative Body Chair, British Medical Association (BMA)
The Rt Revd Dr John Perumbalath, Bishop of Liverpool and chair of the Churches’ Refugee Network
Simon Rix, musician in the Kaiser Chiefs
Suzi Ruffell, comedian
Bishop Mike Royal, General Secretary, Churches Together in England
Gillian Slovo, writer and former refugee from South Africa
Juliet Stevenson CBE, actor
Patrick Vernon OBE, Windrush campaigner
Dame Harriet Walter DBE, actor
Natasha Walter, writer and human rights campaigner
Gill Walton, CEO and General Secretary, Royal College of Midwives
Matt Wrack, General Secretary, Fire Brigades Union (FBU)
Sabir Zazai OBE, Chair of Together With Refugees and CEO of Scottish Refugee Council and former refugee from Afghanistan
Big Zuu, TV chef and personality and son of refugee from Sierra Leone

(2) National poll results:

  • 1 in 4 (28%) people who intend to vote Conservative at the next election believe the government’s approach to the asylum system is working well and less than half (46%) think it is likely to work well in the future. 83% want an asylum system that is well managed, fair and compassionate.
  • 1 in 6 (16%) of people who intend to Labour at the next election believe the government’s approach to the asylum system is working well and around the same (18%) think it is likely to work well in the future. 88% want an asylum system that is well managed, fair and compassionate.
  • 18% of the British public think the government’s approach to the asylum system is working well and 1 in 4 (24%) think it is likely to work well in the future. 8 out of 10 (80%) want an asylum system that is well managed, fair and compassionate.

Together With Refugees collected data from a representative sample of 1,014 adults in the UK on Tuesday 5 December 2023, using Focaldata. Focaldata’s platform brings together sampling, scripting, fieldwork, and data processing into a single place. The data was weighted by age, gender, and region to be representative of the UK adult population. All poll results are subject to a margin of error.   Margin of error tells you how much the results derived from your sample will differ from the real population value (i.e. if everyone in the relevant population was asked the question).  The larger the sample size, the smaller the margin of error. For an indication of the margin of error at different sample sizes, please see the table below:

Sample sizeMargin of error (at 95% confidence level)
50(+/-) 14 percentage points
100(+/-) 10 p.p.
200(+/-) 7
300(+/-) 6
400(+/-) 5
500(+/-) 4
600(+/-) 4
700(+/-) 4
800(+/-) 3
900(+/-) 3
1,000(+/-) 3

(3) The number of cases has been falling significantly over the recent period, as the government implements its new policy to reduce the backlog.  The latest Quarterly Immigration Statistics (year ending September 2023) show the number of people in the backlog as 165,411 (with the number of cases as 125,173 – some cases include more than one person such as a family).   The Home office is now publishing a new and more regular set of data linked to the Illegal Migration Act that includes the number of cases not people.  The latest figure from data (November 2023) shows 109.442 cases in the backlog and does not include the number of people. 

(4) Sabir Zazai sought safety in the UK in 1999, fleeing the conflict in Afghanistan.