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Celebrities back Hollande’s call on Britain to fulfil commitment to child refugees in Calais

Today, Thursday 3 March, public figures including Benedict Cumberbatch and Sophie Hunter, Dominic West and Catherine Fitzgerald, and Jude Law added their voices to President Hollande’s call on the UK Government to speed up the process of reuniting unaccompanied minors in Calais with their relatives in the UK. Until this happens, public figures have signed up to a new buddy system to provide help and support to unaccompanied minors who have a legal and moral right to be reunited with their UK-based families.

There are around 500 children in Calais, many of whom have family in the UK and full legal rights to be with them. The system for providing legal and safe family reunion has literally never once worked in the two years since it was created; resulting in children risking their lives in the backs of lorries or at the hands of traffickers.

Celebrities including Juliet Stevenson, Michael Morpurgo and Brian Eno have signed up to a new buddy system to help reunite unaccompanied minors in Calais with their families in the UK. The buddy system is a collaboration between Citizens UK, Help Refugees, Good Chance Calais and Letters Live. Each public figure (“buddy”) has committed to personally support an unaccompanied child in Calais. This will ensure the children are not lost to the humanitarian and legal support they need in order to access their right to reach their loved ones. Each buddy will speak out on behalf of their child; visit them in Calais or visit their families in the UK and contribute towards their legal and humanitarian costs.

Following President Hollande’s statement, pressure grows on the UK government to ensure unaccompanied minors in Calais with family in the UK are reunited. President Hollande stated that France followed up with unaccompanied children, and that: “if they have a family link to the UK, then they must go there, and they must go quickly and in an efficient fashion.

Major Nick Coke, Raynes Park Salvation Army and Citizens UK , said: “With evictions beginning in earnest and these minors’ homes being demolished we must act urgently to ensure these children are not lost, scattered across Northern France and away from the humanitarian protection they need and the legal support they require to reunite with their loved ones.”

“We’re glad that the President and Prime Minister have finally acknowledged the urgency of this problem. That these desperate children cannot be left in the chaos of Calais and should instead be reunited with their loved ones as a matter of the utmost urgency” added George Gabriel, Lead Organiser at Citizens UK.

Citizens UK estimates that there are around 150 unaccompanied minors in Calais with a legal right to reunite with their families in the UK. They currently have 70 live cases with children in Calais, and estimate that there are another 80 who would qualify for family reunion.

Josie Naughton and Lliana Bird from Help Refugees said: “No human should have to endure the awful conditions of the Calais ‘Jungle’ let alone children who have loving homes to go to. We welcome the buddies to our team and are grateful for their assistance in helping us provide humanitarian aid to these children while they wait for reunification or proper protection from the authorities.”

Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson, Artistic Directors of Good Chance Calais , said: "Given the perilous position the camp sits in at this time, it is imperative that we work actively to use the legal routes to reunification as soon as possible."

Notes to Editors:

Public figures who have signed up to the buddy system include:

Ali Smith & Sarah Wood, Andrew O’Hagan, Anoushka Shankar and Joe Wright, Azzi Glasser, Benedict Cumberbatch and Sophie Hunter, Brian Eno, Clare and Michael Morpurgo, Dominic West and Catherine Fitzgerald, Elif Shafak, Georgia Byng and Guy Pratt, Gillian Anderson, Jamie Byng, Jonathan Clark (Bishop of Croydon), Jude Law, Juliet Stevenson, Kirkland Newman Smulders, Laura Bailey, Mariella Frostrup, Mark Cousins, Mark Cousins, Michael and Caroline Kuhn, Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, Shappi Khorsandi, Sir Christopher and Jennie Bland, Stephen Daldry, Tracey Seaward.

Buddies have committed to the following actions:

1. Writing a letter to the Prime Minister, French President, and the Head of the Family Reunion units on behalf of the child in question, urging the authorities to swiftly reunite them with their loved ones

2. Where possible, visiting the child in Calais and/or their family members in the UK to build relationship, assure them that they’re not on their own and that we’re committed to supporting them subject to conditions in the camp

3. Donating funds to aid the child’s humanitarian and legal needs.

4. Speaking out by adding their names to a joint declaration of intent (see below), made by all buddies, to together ensure that the minors they’re supporting end up reunited with their loved ones as they are legally entitled to

The statement in full:

“We call on the British and French authorities to immediately make provisions for the safe passage of all the unaccompanied minors and refugee children identified by Citizens UK with verified family connections to Britain.

“These children have a full legal right to reunite with their loved ones. It is unacceptable that they are left in danger and distress for administrative convenience. The system established to reunite these families must either be set aside, or made to work as a matter of extreme urgency.

“We are each buddying with one unaccompanied minor to ensure that they receive the humanitarian support they need and to personally insist that both governments honour their obligations to these children.”

Information on groups involved:

Citizens UK is the national home of community organising – a network of over 350 faith groups, schools and colleges that work together for the common good. They have been campaigning on the Syrian crisis for over 18 months and created to help coordinate the public’s response.

So far Citizens UK efforts to persuade councils to participate in resettling Syrian refugees have persuaded 44 councils to offer 3,097 places. They’ve identified 700 private landlords who are offering properties, persuaded a dozen universities to offer £3.5 million of scholarships for refugees and successfully challenged the Prime Minister to resettle at least 1,000 people before Christmas.

Help Refugees are a humanitarian organisation and the primary givers of aid to the refugee camp in Calais with over £250,000 provided since September 2015 in the form of food, shelter, clothing and other key needs. Help Refugees support the Women & Children’s Centre and the Youth Centre (where many of the unaccompanied children are looked after), the Mental Health Centre and Citizens UK in their vital legal work. Help Refugees is also active across Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Athens and Idomeni.

For more information Help Refugees is a charitable fund set up under the auspices of Prism the Gift Fund. Charity No:1099682

Good Chance is a temporary theatre of hope in the heart of the refugee camp in Calais, set up in October 2015 by two British playwrights, Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson. It was created in the belief that free expression and the power of creativity can provide relief in even the most difficult circumstances.

The daytime schedule at Good Chance can include writing workshops, music lessons, dance, acting and performance. The theatre regularly welcomes visiting companies and artists who deliver workshops over one to seven days in specific performance arts like circus and clowning, or work in smaller groups to develop a more intimate process and performance piece over a longer period of time. Every evening, Good Chance hosts big communal events which bring all of the camp’s many nationalities together. Past events have included poetry slams, stand-up comedy, acoustic sets, theatre performances, rap battles, film nights and mass chill outs. Every Saturday night The Hope Show rounds-up the highlights of the week's activity in a large-scale review show.

Good Chance is supported by numerous individuals and organisations, including the Young Vic Theatre and David Lan, The Royal Court Theatre and Vicky Featherstone, Elyse Dodgson, Stephen Daldry, Sonia Friedman, Sir Tom Stoppard, Sabrina Guinness, Caryl Churchill, David Hare, Jeffrey Culpepper and Susan Witherow.

For more information please visit or find us on Twitter @goodchancecal

Posted on 3 Mar, 2016