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Refugee's 'hearts and borders' plea moves Letters Live audience to tears

Published 12/03/2016

Jude Law performs at a Letters Live performance at the refugee camp in Calais (Help Refugees/PA)
Jude Law performs at a Letters Live performance at the refugee camp in Calais (Help Refugees/PA)

A refugee's plea for Europe to open its "hearts and borders" brought a London audience to tears on the second night of the Letters Live series.

The Syrian refugee, known only as Hossein, prompted the only standing ovation of the night as he made the plea to the "dear kind people of Europe" to "please open your hearts and borders".

He was imprisoned twice for peaceful protest against the Assad regime before making an 87-day journey across 10 countries to the Calais refugee camp, where he has spent two months.

The refugee, who is currently waiting for leave to remain in the UK, said of the crisis: "Death is just a step away from refugees.

"History will judge all of us according to our actions. This will stain the heart of history and humanity and it can never be removed.

"Please open the doors to us refugees and save us. We are not terrorists, we are not soldiers, we are not politicians."

His voice breaking, he added: "We are just ordinary people in pursuit of our peaceful life. I only want to live."

Audience members wiped away tears after the emotional speech from the Syrian, who was wearing a "Choose Love" T-shirt as he addressed the crowd.

Taking to the stage immediately afterwards, actress Sinead Cusack said she did not know how to follow an act that was "so moving and so important", adding it felt frivolous but she would continue as planned.

Tom Odell dedicated his last song, a cover of I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free, to Hossein and "every refugee who is looking for a home right now".

He said he was "truly moved by what I saw and the people I spoke to" after visiting the Calais refugee camp with British actors Jude Law and Matt Berry in February.

Other letters of note included one from Yoko Ono opposing the parole of the man who shot dead her husband John Lennon, which was dramatised to a rapt audience by Dame Harriet Walter.

Another, read by comedian Shappi Khorsandi, included a series of Tina Fey's sardonic responses to negative online comments - prompting roars of laughter.

Sir Bob Geldof also had the audience in stitches as he revealed a more domestic side, recounting an exchange with his neighbour over a planning permission dispute.

They were just some of a series of historic letters brought to life by an array of famous actors, musicians and writers at Freemasons' Hall on Friday night.

The event draws on the collection of letters published in Shaun Usher's international best-seller Letters Of Note.

The 2016 series will feature Benedict Cumberbatch, Caitlin Moran, Russell Brand and Shami Chakrabarti as well as dozens of other famous performers over the next five days.

Letters Live first launched last year and quickly became a sell-out success, with a further 20-25 dates set to be announced across 2016 and early 2017.

Saturday's matinee will see Caroline Flack and Olly Murs reunite on stage after they announced they were quitting as presenters of the X Factor.

They will be joined by Russell Brand and Ian McKellen for the family-friendly performance.

A limited number of £10 tickets will be available on the door before each performance.

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From Belfast Telegraph