Vanessa Redgrave has accused European governments of “ignoring, evading and violating” human rights laws when it comes to supporting refugees.
The Academy Award-winner, speaking in the lead-up to the release of her documentary film about the subject, said that governments had a legal duty to do more for refugees and migrants.
Referring to the basic human rights outlined in the Geneva Conventions, the 79-year-old said on Monday: “Now there is a mood amongst governments in Europe to ignore and evade and violate these conventions that we are bound to.
“Since I became an advocate of human rights and because I am old enough to remember something of what war meant personally, law to me is the most precious thing we have.
“To me that is the essence of democracy – law that doesn’t change according to the government.”
Explaining that systems of law and government must be kept separate for democracy to be possible, she added: “I keep thinking to myself, isn’t it wonderful that Britain is such an odd country?”
Her film, Sea Sorrow, traces the history of refugees in Europe and features actors Ralph Fiennes and Emma Thompson, as well as presenter Anita Rani and Labour’s Lord Alfred Dubs, who was rescued from Nazi Germany as a child via the Kindertransport programme.
To create the film, Vanessa – who has campaigned for the rights and protection of global refugees since the early 1990s – and her son, director Carlo Nero, travelled to Greece, Lebanon, Italy and Calais.
She said that, while authorities were not doing enough, she believed the British public was “hot” enough on solidarity to make a difference.
“The media have been listening more than before to what the NGOs have to say,” she said. “They have had to go to court and the courts have said, ‘Governments, you’ve got to do this,’ but the governments have gone ahead as if the courts have said nothing.
“Everyone is feeling that we are living in an impossible situation and that is turning people’s minds to each other.
“People in Britain are very generous and very ready to help if they know what to do – even more so if the government is giving the right lead.”
Commenting on the way the issues of immigration and the refugee crisis affected the result of the EU referendum, Carlo said: “Certainly these situations where certain parts of the community have spoken out to leave Europe over migration and then in America the election of a president who does seem quite hostile towards migrants certainly exacerbates any tension that is already there.
“But there is incredible public opinion in favour of the rights of migrants and refugee workers and the need for us to take our fair share.
Vanessa Redgrave will be speaking about her film Sea Sorrow on 6 Dec.November 28, 2016
“No-one is saying we have to take on all of the world’s problems and desperate people, but we have a moral duty to take on a fair number of them and at the moment we are actually one of the lowest in terms of the international table of countries taking in refugees and migrants.
“To me, someone who is coming from a situation of hopelessness is facing persecution, even if they don’t literally have a gun to their head.
“I think ultimately there are enough people who do care to make a huge difference and it’s important to make their voices heard. The danger is people who know what’s right, and not speaking up.”
Vanessa added: “As Anita Rani says in our film: ‘Haven’t I got to think it could happen to me? Of course. It could happen to any of us.’”