U.K. pop star Lily Allen is speaking out against her native country’s treatment of more than 10,000 Afghan, Syrian, and Eritrean refugees who’ve settled in squalid conditions among a district called the Jungle in the French port city of Calais.
The 31-year-old “Smile” singer, currently at work on a new album, didn’t hold back during a visit to the Jungle earlier this week. Between performing aid work in the Jungle with the charity Help Refugees, Allen broke down in tears after she apologized to a 13-year-old Afghan boy she met at the camp while filming the BBC Two program Victoria Derbyshire.
The boy, whom Jungle volunteers believe has a legal right to enter the country as his father lives in the British city of Birmingham, said he attempted to illegally enter the U.K. by stowing away on commercial transport vehicles. He said his case is currently being reviewed by British officials, though he ultimately grew impatient with the four-month waiting period.
“I apologize on behalf of my country. I’m sorry for what we’ve put you through,” Allen said to the boy, who revealed he’d been living in the Jungle for two months, as tears streamed down her face.
According to the Daily Mail, Allen was also openly critical of Britain’s handling of the refugee crisis.
“It just seems that at three different intervals in this young boy’s life, the English in particular have put you in danger,” she told the boy. “We’ve bombed your country, put you in the hands of the Taliban and now put you in danger of risking your life to get into our country.”
According to the BBC, between 600 and 1,000 unaccompanied children live in the Calais Jungle, though growing conservatism in the region — spurred in part by the recent wave of European-based terrorist attacks in Paris and Nice — prompted French president Francois Hollande to vow to demolish the area by the end of the year.
Allen also told the publication the conditions for children in the Jungle are of particular concern to her.
“I’m a mother and I’ve got two little girls. If something happened in this country and they were displaced and had to run for it, I hope other parts of the world were a little bit more helpful,” Allen said. “The only thing I can think of that prevents us from acting is self-preservation. People are scared of our government having to provide funds to look after these other people and how that will affect us.”
Allen’s comments stirred controversy online, with Twitter users lashing out at the musician after her Derbyshire episode aired.
Still, Allen held her ground amid a flurry of online backlash, ultimately blaming the treatment of the refugees on Britain’s conservatives.
“I believe the problem here are the austerity measures being enforced by the Tories, and tax avoidance,” she tweeted on Monday. “Migrants are the scapegoat.”
Watch Allen break down during her conversation with an Afghan refugee in the video above.