Emma Thompson urges MPs to save more child refugees like her adopted son

May Bulman
Actress Emma Thompson and her adopted son Tindyebwa Agaba, who moved in with her family at the age of 14 as a child refugee: Getty Images

Actress Emma Thompson has written a letter to MPs expressing her disappointment at the “shockingly low” number of refugee children the UK has taken from Europe under the Dubs amendment, and urging them to take action.

In a highly personal message, the Oscar winner describes the joys of bringing up her adopted son, Tindyebwa Agaba, who she took in as a child refugee 14 years ago. She writes that he has brought “nothing but joy and the deepest possible rewards” to her family, and urges many more like him be helped in this way.

But Thompson warns that following the Government's decision to close the Dubs amendment — one of the few legal passages for unaccompanied minors to the UK — an increasing number of these children are instead putting themselves at risk as they embark on reaching the country through illegal routes.

Describing her experience raising Tindyebwa, the Love Actually star writes: “Fourteen years ago I met one of these children at the Refugee Council. He was a traumatised 16-year old Rwandan refugee who had seen untold suffering as a child soldier and who only needed help and support from a loving group of people to flourish into the extraordinary, empathic and talented member of our family he is today.

“Our family have experienced nothing but joy and reaped the deepest possible rewards from witnessing the development and happiness of the refugee who became our brave and kind son. Those we choose to help often end up helping us in ways we cannot imagine.

“I am certain there are many like him out there that we can help to become part of other family or community groups where they could grow into active and fulfilled citizens with much to offer.”

Thompson, who has long been an advocate for helping unaccompanied minors arriving in Europe, urges MPs in the letter to consider an amendment to the Children’s Bill being put forward for parliamentary consideration next week, which has the aim of providing a passage for child refugees to reach the UK.

The amendment, which is being put forward in Parliament by Conservative MP Heidi Allen on 7 March, will ask that local authorities identify their capacity to resettle unaccompanied refugee children and to report this to the Secretary of State annually.

In the letter, Thompson rejects claims made by Home Secretary Amber Rudd that the Dubs amendment acted as a “pull” for more unaccompanied refugee children to make dangerous journeys to Calais, instead turning it on its head to say “the opposite is true”.

“Children do not fling themselves into the dangerous unknown for anything but the most severe reasons of survival,” Thompson says.

“Hundreds of teenagers, some as young as 13, are now attempting to survive in the freezing snows of Northern France.

"Since the eviction of the Calais camp, they are still trying to reach the UK, putting their lives in the hands of people smugglers, climbing into refrigerated lorries – because without safe and legal routes, they feel that this is their only option.

“They deserve our help and above all, our compassion. How can we turn our backs on them simply because of the largely unsubstantiated fear that others might come?”

Finishing her letter, Thompson makes an appeal to MPs to use their position to provide safety for more children, saying: "Members of Parliament, you are in the position to save many more than 350 of these children and to put them on a road to a brighter future."

Ahead of the parliamentary vote, Josie Naughton of Help Refugees told The Independent: "The non binding vote in parliament last week (254-1) in favour of child refugees highlighted MPs coming together across party lines to support bringing vulnerable unaccompanied minors to the UK.

"This is a humanitarian issue and not a political one. We hope the amendment vote next week reflects that."