Glasgow girls' protest inspires musical

By Pauline McLean
BBC Scotland arts correspondent

  • Published
Media caption,
Left to right: Glasgow girls Amal Azzudin, Emma Clifford, Jennifer McCarron, Agnesa Murselaj and Roza Salih

Seven schoolgirls who led a campaign against dawn raids on asylum seekers are the inspiration for a new musical from the National Theatre of Scotland. The Glasgow Girls - as they became known - took on the Home Office and the Scottish government about the way failed asylum seekers were treated.

Most teenagers are into music. Few take on the government. But this new musical combines both.

Its inspiration is the true story of seven Glasgow teenagers, who were at school together in Drumchapel.

Spurred on by the possible deportation of one of their friends, the girls began campaigning.

Image caption,
The Glasgow girls were school friends who decided to campaign together

Using friends and neighbours they set up an early warning system to prevent dawn raids by immigration officers, lobbied the Scottish government and the Home Office and took to the streets to protest.

One of the girls Jennifer McCarron, who seven years on from the start of the protest works in childcare, says: "We weren't getting involved because we were going to be in the press or anything like that. We just did it."

But Jennifer says she is now amazed by what they did and achieved.

Roza Salih, whose family came to Glasgow from Iraqi Kurdistan, is now a law student.

She says: "We accomplished big things that no other people were doing."

In the late 90s, Glasgow greatly increased the number of asylum seekers for which it provided ­accommodation.

Image caption,
The girls started a high-profile campaign against removal of asylum seekers

By 2005, about one in every eight pupils at Drumchapel High was an asylum seeker.

However, if asylum was refused Home Office immigration officers would often arrive in force while the families were still asleep and take them to detention centres.

The girls - Amal Azzudin, originally from Somalia; Agnesa Murselaj, a Roma girl from Kosovo; Roza Salih, from Kurdistan; Ewelina Siwak, a Polish Roma gypsy; and Emma Clifford, Jennifer McCarron and Toni Henderson from Drumchapel - started a campaign against the dawn raids and the removal of school friends who had spent years in Glasgow.

The musical, at the Citizens' Theatre in Glasgow until 17 November, was conceived and directed by Cora Bissett. It is a follow-up to her Olivier Award winning Roadkill, which was about sex trafficking.

The story of Glasgow Girls is written by leading playwright David Greig, with original songs from, among others, Scots Asian rapper MC Soom T.

The production will travel to London after Glasgow.

For Emma Clifford, who now works as a radio researcher at the BBC, and Agnesa Murselaj, who works in health adminisration, a musical based on their story initially came as a surprise.

Emma says: "When I first found out it was a musical, I thought 'Jeezo, they are making a musical about a group of girls from Drumchapel campaigning about asylum seekers. Jazz hands does not fit the bill here'.

"But the more I thought about it, music was so much a part of our campaign.

"Whenever we were celebrating or anything like that there was so much music. It was inspiring."

The seven girls remain close friends and see each other regularly.

Emma says: "We made that kind of bond when we were 15 or 16.

"It is not something we want to lose. That's another reason to keep in touch. Who goes through that kind of thing together? Not many people."

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