Room for Refugees – a two-part drama for BBC Radio Scotland.

Gerda Stevenson
Gerda Stevenson

ROOM FOR REFUGEES – a two-part drama for BBC Radio Scotland,

by Gerda Stevenson


In 2015, I read an IPSOS MORI study, which suggested that the British population is ill educated on facts surrounding immigration issues. The international study was conducted in multiple countries to gauge the perceptions of those living there. This ‘index of ignorance’ ranked Britain as 10th overall in terms of the inaccuracy of guesses surrounding immigration issues, some of which were as high as double the actual figure.

The poll found that British people thought that 24% of people currently living here are immigrants, whilst the actual figure was much lower at 13%. In addition, the general public estimated that 21% of people residing in Britain were of the Muslim faith. In actual fact, this statistic, at time of this study, was a mere 5% of the population.

Many of the people polled suggested that their misconceptions had originated from information seen on television or in newspapers. 

Scotland has had, until recently, a falling population, and relies on immigrant workers, skilled and unskilled, for many of its key services. Yet ignorance on this subject still prevails.

Following my recent BBC Radio Scotland dramas on subjects such as the sex industry, and homelessness, I proposed to the BBC to write another drama on the subject of immigration, employing the same process: i.e. transforming my interview-based research into fictionalised drama. The BBC accepted my proposal, and I was commissioned to write a two-part drama about asylum seekers and refugees.

My first port of call was the Scottish Refugee Council, and with the generous assistance of Martha Harding, I was accepted for a training day at the SRC. That day was an eye-opener. I learned about the nuts and bolts of how the UK immigration system works, I met some refugees who had come to Scotland as asylum seekers, and was privileged to hear their stories.

I also contacted Sheila Arthur, Manager of Asylum Seeker Housing Project in Glasgow, who was very helpful, and generous with her time.

Through other channels I met Syrian asylum seekers and refugees, who agreed to be interviewed. These meetings were very moving, and on a few occasions, we had to stop, and meet again on another day – the interviewees wanted to tell their stories, but doing so was, understandably, sometimes overwhelming for them. I am mindful that interviewees must not feel that their privacy is being invaded. I never use a camera or recording equipment of any kind – I simply make notes with pen and paper. I have been careful to protect the identity of the interviewees: I have changed their names, and amalgamated their stories, so that they are not easily identifiable. In any case, I am a dramatist, not a documentary maker – I am creating fictional drama, based on facts.

My aim is to inform the audience – to create a gripping drama that tells a human story, asking questions, and challenging the sensational, fear-inducing - often false - perspective presented by the British mainstream media.

BBC RADIO SCOTLAND, Wednesday 26th April, 13.30pm.

Room for Refugees – Part 1: Nasrin
by Gerda Stevenson

Nasrin has been in Glasgow for almost a year while she waits for her interview to determine whether she will be given refugee status and be given leave to stay in the UK. A qualified accountant, she hasn't been allowed to work while her case is being considered. At the interview she will be required to make her case for being classified as a refugee. That means Nasrin will need to re-live and talk about her traumatic experience of religious persecution and fleeing Iran - a country she once loved. 'People Make Glasgow' - so says the marketing slogan; as Nasrin worries about her interview and the people she's left behind in Iran she gets to know Glasgow and some of the 'people' who make the city.

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