Model and activist Lily Cole says she would happily open up her home to take in a child refugee and has criticized the British government for ending its commitment to the Dubs amendment.
The U.K. Home Office announced in February it would stop providing shelter to some of the 90,000 unaccompanied migrant children stranded in Europe at the end of March, after placing just 350 with local authorities across the U.K.
The Dubs amendment was proposed by Labour peer Lord Alfred Dubs, a former child refugee, as an amendment to the Immigration Act 2016 and was passed in court in May 2016. Under the ruling, the U.K. government pledged to rehome migrant children, although an exact number was not specified. Lord Dubs proposed helping at least 3,000 youngsters.
“I’ve been really angered and upset by the way the British government has backtracked on what was promised,” Cole tells Newsweek in an interview.
Cole says she doesn’t believe that home secretary Amber Rudd’s suggestion that the Dubs scheme would act as a “pull factor” for children to make the journey to the U.K. and possibly fall victim to traffickers. “I don’t think that position is strong enough,” says the 29-year-old actor.
She adds:“I was speaking to the head of policy at Downing Street about it and he said he was trying to propose a scheme whereby anybody could open up their home. The government said they asked local authorities and that they said 350 [children] is the best they can [accommodate], but what if you ask the general public? We’d come up with thousands of placements. I’d sign up for that. I think it’d be popular and I’d definitely sign up.”
In recent years, Cole has transformed from model and actor to social campaigner, backing causes including saving the Amazon rainforest, improving global literacy and now easing the migrant crisis across Europe.
On Sunday, Cole spoke at a free screening of the Oscar-winning Iranian film The Salesman in London’s Trafalgar Square that attracted thousands of people. She was instrumental in encouraging London Mayor Sadiq Khan to put on the event as a protest at U.S. President Donald Trump’s immigration ban. The film’s director Asghar Farhadi, an Iranian citizen, did not attend the Academy Awards in Los Angeles in solidarity with the seven countries affected by the travel ban, including Iran. His film won the Oscar for best foreign language film.
Cole also traveled to the Greek island of Samos in late 2016 to document the plight of migrants crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey to seek refuge there. The resulting short film, Lights in Dark Places, was released by Vice Monday.
According to Cole’s documentary, 120,000 people have made the journey to Samos since 2015. At the refugee camp she visited, the model described seeing “five or six people huddled” in a tent “sharing one blanket between them.”
“I had a friend who had been volunteering [in Samos] for over a year. I feel like the media has given so many conflicting stories and there are different agendas in how the situation is portrayed,” says Cole. “I didn’t have a clear sense of what the truth was. I wanted to go and learn the human face of these stories.”
The dire conditions of the camps are juxtaposed with the efforts of volunteers who went to Samos to provide aid. Cole also met a Syrian journalist, Amal Safed, who fled war torn Syria and relocated to Turkey. Safed was persecuted by the oppressive regime in Syria because of damning footage she took capturing the impact of the country’s civil war. She said her brother was killed in retaliation and she was imprisoned for seven months.
Cole was inspired by her story and “gave her a phone with a good camera and she continued to send us content” from the refugee camp “over the two months that we’ve been editing.”
“Samos is a microcosm,” says Cole. “A few of the volunteers we met in Samos said that while the media attention for the European refugee crisis has been amazing, it’s just a small part of a bigger problem worldwide.”
The number of forcibly displaced people across the globe stands at 63.5 million, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency.
Cole says that her film is “a drop in the ocean” in helping to solve the migrant crisis, but “every drop is important. If lots of people try and each take action, whether it’s making a film, or donating, or volunteering, it’s important for citizens to take those actions to counter the narrative we’ve been receiving from politics.”
The model believes channeling her efforts into celebrating the volunteers in Samos or The Salesman, instead of attacking politicians.
“I think that’s an interesting way to protest—positive action,” Cole says. “I’m not against people criticizing, but it can also become quite negative really quickly and quite divisive. We’re in danger of becoming increasingly divided by our political differences, and that’s not a solution either.
“Being angry and shouting at people who have different political views from me isn’t going to solve the problem. What’s going to solve the problem is trying to listen to the other side, trying to communicate your own perspective, and build bridges.”
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