Gary Lineker has praised a couple who have opened their home to 11 asylum seekers, calling them “an inspiration”.
The Match of the Day presenter, who has offered to take in a refugee himself, heaped praise on Guy and Julia Wyatt for hosting a series of desperate migrants in the last four years.
The couple, a barrister and an IT specialist, are among hundreds across the UK who offer emergency accommodation to refugees waiting to hear if their Home Office application to stay in Britain has been approved.
But the Wyatts say their good deeds have helped them learn as much about other cultures as their guests have gleaned about life in Britain.
Among the refugees they have hosted are a Syrian teenager who had seen his home blown to smithereens by a missile, an 18-year-old from Ethiopia who faced assassination because of his father’s political allegiances and a North Korean with a terminal illness.
Courtroom lawyer Guy, 61, said he and his wife were spurred to help as “a childless professional couple with nothing to worry about apart from ourselves”.
They took the step after Guy had worked on the case of a Liberian who had smuggled someone into Britain.
His client, Mulbah, fled here aged 14 after his whole family were butchered in an inter-ethnic rivalry.
Guy said it made him realise some cases are far from clear-cut.
The couple offer their home through the charity Refugees At Home, the same one Gary works with.
Last week Gary, 59, revealed he had offered to open up his £4million Surrey pad to people in need after being moved by the number risking their lives to cross the Channel in small boats to gain asylum in Britain.
He said: “It’s important this country continues to show a generous spirit towards refugees, which we’ve shown throughout our history. People like the Wyatts are an inspiration.”
Guy and Julia, of Barnet, North London, remember clearly the first time they hosted an asylum seeker – having to explain to the Ethiopian teenager how to use a dishwasher and watching his amazement as he saw Morris dancing for the first time.
The couple have been taking in those waiting to hear the outcome of their Home Office applications for just under four years, one of almost 1,000 ordinary families to do so.
They say it has been incredibly rewarding and that the difference between their quality of life and that of their guests – men from Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Syria and North Korea – could not be more stark.
The Wyatts were well off and enjoyed holidays and going to festivals, but realised that having no children of their own meant they had more to offer.
It was when Guy met Mulbah that they looked seriously at hosting.
The young Liberian had helped orchestrate an illegal entry into the UK.
He had been granted full status in the UK after fleeing here at 14, but wanted to help British authorities understand why he had smuggled someone in.
Guy recalled: “It was such a distressing story. I thought we really ought to do something to help refugees and asylum seekers in this country.”
That year, Guy and Julia opened up their home.
Their first guest, a “delightful” 18-year-old, had fled Ethiopia because his dad was in the separationist Oromo Liberation Front.
Their second was Abeo, from Nigeria, who had fled because he was gay, in a country where homosexuality can be punished by death.
One Syrian boy who stayed with the couple for two months last year had found his home blown to pieces in a missile attack.
And Guy and Julia also cared for Yeon, 40, a terminally ill man from North Korea who had just three days left to live while he was under the Wyatts’ roof, after developing liver cirrhosis following chemotherapy.
They are still unsure how he ended up in Britain but the Home Office flew him back home to die.
Guy remembers taking one arrival for his first takeaway curry, another to the Proms and a third who became a big fan of the Guinness at his local.
Through their guests, he has learned to cook Syrian food and tried fasting.
“Every good deed enriches you in some way,” he said.
“It sounds pompous, but it’s true. It’s made my circle of friends wider and more diverse. I definitely know more than I did before.
“The stories about refugees living in five-star hotels and getting all this money are lies intended to stir up resentment and racial hatred. It’s something that makes me cross.”
Even the day-to-day mundanities have been challenging, 58-year-old Julia added – as many guests are unfamiliar with the household appliances.
They have housed Mohamed, from Sierra Leone, for a year so far, and their Syrian lodger Mo joined four months into his stay.
Both say the Wyatts have been a lifeline. Mohamed said: “The reception I had and their willingness to accommodate makes it easier.
“I’m really grateful. I love the peaceful atmosphere of their house, the space and location.
They provide almost everything and our Friday night curry tops it all.
They are amazing people.” Mo added: “They have shown kindness and care for helping me to feel comfortable in London.”
Guy and Julia have taken previous guests out clothes shopping for winter coats, as they try to adapt to the colder British climate.
And Guy says celebrity support means the world to him.
He said: “We particularly love it when someone high profile gets involved because it gets more interest.
“Gary Lineker makes it a doubly good thing because it raises the profile of the issue and it helps bring other people on board.
“Like anyone who opens their home and heart, he’s just the same as anyone else. We love it
when anyone hosts.”
This year has been a record year for migrants attempting to cross the English Channel from France to Britain – with more than 4,000 making the deadly journey so far.
Now Guy and Julia are calling for more people to open their hearts and look after people waiting to learn about their refugee status.
They say they have never had an empty room and always find someone.
“There’s a real need to help asylum seekers right now”, Guy said.
“It doesn’t mean we are assisting them to come, we’re just recognising that they are there and need help.
“All you can do is to make them feel safe. You don’t want to focus on their harrowing stories too much because they’re just normal people who need help.
Although their life histories are very different to ours, they’re still just like us.”
And he said it had been an eye-opening experience for acknowledging the privilege of Brits.
“The biggest difference between us and them is not nationality or religion or anything like that – it’s luck.
“Some of the people we’ve looked after are professional people whose lives, in better times, would have been very much like ours. Like a university lecturer or doctor.
“We’re here in this country, in a nice house, not because we’re good people but because of good fortune.
“Likewise, they’re not fleeing for their lives – desperate and not knowing how they’re going to live – because they’re bad.
“The difference between those people who crossed the channel in rubber boats and those who say offensive things about them on social media, is down to luck.
“Anyone could have found themselves on either side of that equation.”
Refugees At Home currently has 979 hosts, with ages ranging from 18 years old to a woman in her 90s.
Co-founder Sara Nathan OBE said: “We host people of any nationality, race, sexual orientation or religion.
“If someone needs hosting and we are in a position to help, we will do our very best to do so.”