We need more ‘Glasgow Girls’ to fight injustice

Glasgow Girls 2019. Image: Mihaela Bodlovic

Our CEO Sabir Zazai's powerful response to watching Glasgow Girls - the tour continues in Perth this week!

“You are a person liable to be detained”, read a letter in a brown envelope that arrived through the letter box of my asylum accommodation in Coventry.

Subsequent letters said “you entered the UK illegally", "you could be deported”, and finally: “you are given temporary admission after which you will have to leave the UK or make fresh representations”.

As an asylum seeker, this was what mostly came through the post and at times, I dreaded opening any letters as I thought it may bear even worse news.

I had forgotten about all these fearful lines and moments until last Friday when I sat in the exquisite King’s Theatre in Edinburgh to watch the ‘Glasgow Girls’ musical for the first time.

Glasgow Girls stood up for human rights and against injustice in 2005 to free their classmate and her family, who were dawn raided and detained, having fallen through the gaps of the inhumane asylum system of the UK. The very system through which I sought protection in the UK in 1999.

Although the Glasgow Girls is a gut wrenching reminder of the fears of the asylum system, the sad fact is that not much has changed since then for those seeking protection.

Twenty years on since I arrived, there is very little attempt to look at the asylum system with a human rights lens, let alone reforming a system with many flaws highlighted by many independent inquiries and numerous third sector reports.

Yet the system has become extremely tough over the years. We are the only country in Europe that detains people without a time limit. Only 32% of initial decisions in March 2018 have grants of protection. Those seeking protection have no recourse to public funds. Asylum seekers are not allowed to work whilst seeking protection, an approach we have long condemned alongside other partners and recently through the #LiftTheBan campaign. The asylum dispersal system means that people have no choice in the dispersal decisions and they often live in substandard accommodations. Even when they are granted status, people face destitution and homelessness due to changes brought about by the ‘hostile environment’ such as ‘right to rent’ and the much debated 28 days period in which those with successful asylum claim need to make the transition from asylum support into mainstream support services. And for those who have gone through the many hurdles, they cannot be joined by their immediate family due to arbitrary family reunion laws.

Despite these challenges, Brexit poses yet more threats to refugee protection. In Scotland, we are concerned about the uncertainty around the regression of rights that are devolved to Scotland such as refugee integration, access to health, education and legal aid.

Whilst Glasgow Girls reminded me of the fears, misery but also bravery, hopes and the solidarity of the local communities to win an important battle of bringing the schoolgirl and the family home in 2005, there is a lot more to be done to stand for our rights which are also the rights of those who need our protection.

As I write this blog, there will be someone who is facing removal, has become destitute or is detained by immigration forces. We need more Glasgow Girls to fight these injustices in our communities. The UK has a proud tradition of welcoming people from across the world. Let us make sure that people who need our protection feel as welcome and safe in our neighbourhoods and communities as we would expect ourselves and our children to be treated if we had to move elsewhere.

And if you have not been able to watch the Glasgow Girls, the show is moving to Perth this week. I found it challenging, emotional and a powerful act that clearly articulates the experiences of those seeking protection and the long-standing tradition of welcome and solidarity of the Scottish society. It is a must watch – even as someone who has gone through the system, I couldn’t help my emotions!


The Glasgow Girls tour continues this week in Perth from 30th January – 3rd February, followed by Inverness (7th-9th Feb) and Dublin (13th-16th Feb)

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