Actor Benedict Cumberbatch Image Credit: AP

The actor Samantha Morton has backed Benedict Cumberbatch’s criticism of the government response to the refugee crisis, and said she “cannot fathom how certain individuals within our government can sleep at night”. Cumberbatch has been making nightly speeches after his curtain call at the Barbican in London and asking for donations to help Syrian refugees.

On Tuesday night he raised eyebrows among the audience by reportedly saying “[expletive] the politicians” during a speech about the refugee crisis. He then went on to recount a friend’s experience volunteering on the Greek island of Lesbos, where hundreds of refugees from the Middle East and Afghanistan have been arriving almost daily.

“Everywhere on the horizon there was nothing but boats and on the shore line nothing but life jackets,” Cumberbatch quoted his friend as saying. “We are saying, as citizens of the world, we see you ... and at least some help is coming.”

Morton, the Oscar-nominated actor whose grandparents were Polish refugees during the Second World War, said she was “incredibly proud” of Cumberbatch for using his platform on stage to raise awareness, and said those in the public eye had an obligation to speak out. So far, contributions from Hamlet audiences have raised more than £150,000 (Dh851,600) for Save the Children.

Morton said: “I’m incredibly proud of Benedict for doing that. It goes right the way back to 1972 when Marlon Brando did not except his Oscar for various reasons to do with Native American rights and land issues.”

During the speeches after Hamlet, Cumberbatch has been reading a poem called Home by Somali poet Warsan Shire, the same one he read in the introduction to Save the Children’s charity single, Help is Coming, released in the summer. It includes the line: “No one puts children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.”

Morton said she was in complete agreement with Cumberbatch that both the British government and European Union had failed to meet their responsibility to look after the millions of people fleeing war-torn countries in the Middle East and Africa. “I’m scared, I’m really scared that we are facing this humanitarian crisis on a scale we have not seen since the Second World War,” she said.

“We can’t stand by and let that happen. When you look at what is happening in Syria, again I find it difficult to comprehend what we are doing — or more what we are not doing — to help these people. The arguments about the strain on the system, on the NHS, are irrelevant at this stage. People don’t want to leave their culture, their family, their home, but they have no choice.”

Morton, like Cumberbatch, said the current policy of the Conservative government to accept just 20,000 refugees over the next five years was shameful. She said: “Maybe I am very naive but we cannot be putting a number on how many we take right now. It just has to be a collective effect where we are rescuing people all who are in need, rather than allowing them to be split up and locked away in these prison camps in Hungary where they are not fed properly or given any medical assistance. It’s treating these people as criminals.”

Morton said she and her husband were even discussing buying caravans to put on their land to house some refugee families who are in need. “My grandparents were Polish refugees,” she said. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for this country accepting my Polish grandparents.”

She added: “Sod it if anyone has an issue with me saying: ‘Come and be here, we will do what we can to help you.’ The world can change so quickly and if we are not careful this situation will become worse than the second world war, it will be so horrific. I think in history people will look back and they will judge.”

Cumberbatch and Morton are not alone in condemning the government’s response to the refugee crisis. More than 100 leading British cultural figures, including Sir Anish Kapoor, Jamie Oliver, Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Sir Michael Caine and Colin Firth, have signed a statement calling for the UK to take in more refugees and complaining that its response has been “too little, too late”. The Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling, has also called the government’s current position “utterly shameful” and called upon the UK to accept more asylum seekers. “If you can’t imagine yourself in one of those boats, you have something missing,” she tweeted. “They are dying for a life worth living.”