Asylum fight to move centre stage

THEY were the group of teenagers who waged a long- running campaign for the rights of young asylum seekers and refugees in Scotland

The Glasgow Girls - as they named themselves - took their fight to Holyrood and Downing Street, were the subject of two television documentaries and won campaign of the year at the Scottish Politician of the Year Awards. Now the story of the Drumchapel High pupils, who mounted the campaign after one of their number faced deportation, is to be immortalised in a major stage production.

One of Scotland's best-known stage actresses and writers, Cora Bissett, has revealed she will be turning their crusade into a musical, which she hopes to stage at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Bissett's last major show, Roadkill, about a victim of sex trafficking in Edinburgh, was the runaway hit at last year's Fringe, winning more awards than any other show.

She is already researching the Glasgow Girls campaign, including meeting the young activists, most of whom are now at college or university.

Amal Azzudin, Emma Clifford, Agnesa Murselaj, Jennifer McCarron, Ewelina Siwak, Toni Lee Henderson and Roza Salih mounted the campaign in 2005 after Murselaj was removed from her home and put in a detention centre in Luton for three weeks.

The Home Office later agreed to reopen her family's case to stay in the UK and they eventually won the right to stay.

The campaign group's calls for more sensitive detainment of asylum seekers, particularly those with children, won the backing from politicians from all sides in Scotland.

Bissett said the Glasgow Girls have given a ringing endorsement to the idea of their campaign - which eventually saw them invited to the Scottish Parliament to meet the then first minister Jack McConnell - inspiring a theatrical production.

She said: "I have worked quite closely with organisations like the Scottish Refugee Council in the past with some of my other projects like Roadkill. I obviously knew quite a bit about the Glasgow Girls campaign because of the impact they had in raising awareness about young asylum seekers in Scotland and the way they were being treated.

"For a lot of the girls it was a real political awakening for them, and not just a flash in the pan. It's a really exciting story to tell.

"I'm very much in the early research stages of the project at the moment, interviewing the girls, who have been brilliant. For me, the Glasgow Girls was a real life-affirming story about seven young women from different parts of the planet and the strong bond they formed together, which was at the root of the campaign.

"I'm not going to try to write anything cheesy, but a good example of a Scottish musical that has worked well in recent years is Sunshine on Leith, although I'm not going to be copying that in any way."

Bissett is an award-winning actress herself, picking up the Stage Award for best actress at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2009 for her role in David Grieg's smash hit rom com Midsummer.

As a theatre director, her Roadkill was staged as part of the Traverse Theatre programme in Edinburgh last summer. Performed before an audience of just 12 in a city flat, it was based upon the experiences of a 14-year-old girl who becomes a victim of sex-trafficking in Edinburgh.

The director won a special prize from the Edinburgh International Festival last year for Roadkill, which will allow her to stage two workshops to develop ideas for the Glasgow Girls production in the capital this summer. Backing for a full-scale production would then be sought to bring her vision to the stage the following year.

She added: "If everything goes according to plan, I'd like to see it premiere in Glasgow next year, then transfer to the Fringe. I hope it goes on to make the same kind of impact as Roadkill and it would be great to see it eventually go overseas."

Azzudin, now 21, who instigated the campaign when she was 15, is now studying community development at Glasgow University.

She said: "It's all very exciting, especially because of Cora's involvement, as I've seen some of her work before.

"The campaign had a huge impact on our lives and really made us what we are like today. We have all moved on with our lives but we are all still in touch.

"Although things have improved for asylum seekers since we launched the campaign, a lot of the issues haven't gone away and hopefully this production will give them a lot of exposure, and not just in Scotland."

n bferguson@scotlandonsunday.com