Actress Juliet Stevenson’s voice has wowed audiences and won awards – and now she’s using it to back the #LifeJacketsLondon campaign launched in London’s Parliament Square on 19 September.
Standing in front of the ‘Lifejacket Graveyard’, timed to coincide with two UN debates on refugees, the film and stage star told Migrant Voice:
“Many of the people who wore the jackets – gathered from Kios in Greece – are tiny children, two, three or four years old. You can’t help wonder whether this life survived this journey or whether this was lost.”
The display was organised by Migrant Voice with the UN refugee agency, World Vision, Doctors Without Borders, Medecins Sans Frontieres, the International Rescue Committee and Snappin' Turtle.
Stevenson explained about the devastation that is currently facing refugees and importance of such a campaign.
“We know nearly 7,000 lives have been lost between January and August alone trying to make the sea crossing,” said Stephenson, “and this [exhibition] really brings it home. It enables people to connect with the human story, the reality of people.”
Gesturing towards Parliament, she added, “That’s what we need these politicians in this building to be doing.
“They sit in offices divorced and, separated from reality, they number crunch and argue about why we should not be taking people in.”
Referring to Prime Minister Theresa May’s participation in the UN summit in New York, she said:
“I really implore Theresa May to go out to some of the camps in Greece and in Lebanon and meet people and talk to people and hear their stories and I defy her to come back and say ‘Here’s the reasons why we shouldn’t take people’.
“It’s so important to keep this issue separate from general discussion about immigration or free movement of people and the workforce in the EU. As a human being first of all and as a prime minister with moral responsibilities she should be trying to address the issue of saving their lives and their children’s lives.“
“This is a moment in history where very soon the world will look back and ask, ‘Who did what, who helped and who did not help’, and I don’t want to feel ashamed that we did not help, that we did not stand up at this moment and recognise the human tragedy and meet it with the many resources that we have.
“I know that people talk about overcrowding, and lack of resources, and of course I understand those concerns, but we are the fifthh richest nation in the world and these are temporary measures we are talking about, about offering people sanctuary while their lives are at risk.“
Stevenson, who has been campaigning for refugees for a decade, named three actions she wants the government to take –and for which she wants public pressure:
1. Bring in the 387 children who have legal entitlement to be here
The children have been waiting in Calais - some for up to a year, some in unspeakable conditions. Family members are waiting for some of them: foster carers are waiting for others. The infrastructure is in place: we must ensure that the process gets underway immediately.
2. Create legal, safer routes
Refugees do not choose to be refugees: they are running for their lives. Stephenson points out that almost all the women whose stories have been told have been exposed to rape and other forms of sexual violence. They often carry babies and children. Plans must be in place to protect women from this violence.
3. Increase the number of refugees we are taking in
Many individuals and organisations have voiced support for such a policy. The voices of the millions of compassionate people in this country need to be listened to.
• Stevenson’s films include Truly, Madly, Deeply, Emma, Bend It Like Beckham, Mona Lisa Smile, Being Julia and Infamous. She has appeared in many Royal Shakespeare Company productions as well as Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Yerma, Death and the Maiden, Duet for One, A Doll's House, The Politician's Wife and Accused.