The Glasgow girls, are a group of school students from Drumchapel High School in Glasgow, who in 2005 took it upon themselves to campaign for the release of their friend Agnesa Murselaj, a Roma girl from Kosovo who was detained by immigration police in a dawn raid.
Agnesa’s whole family were placed in Yarls Wood detention centre and faced deportation back to a country where Roma people faced persecution.
The area of Glasgow where she lived housed a large number of asylum seekers from across the globe, and many went to Drumchapel High. It was not uncommon for students at the school to disappear, either because they had fled or because they had been taken in a dawn raid. When Agnesa was taken, seven of her friends started a campaign to prevent her deportation; four of them were themselves asylum seekers, some waiting for “leave to remain” and under threat of deportation.
This BBC3 musical dramatisation showed how the girls did not stop at highlighting the plight of their friend but went on to broaden out their struggle to defend other students facing deportation, gathering support from the local community, taking direct action to prevent raids and highlighting barbaric practices of detaining and deporting children.
The programme, though stylised in places to make the narrative smoother, stays true to the fighting spirit of these students and the teacher who helped them. It successfully tackles the issues the students faced, not least hostility from a local white working-class community. The students tackling racist attitudes head on in public meetings and on doorsteps.
In one lovely moment a local woman, who became instrumental in the direct action to stop dawn raids, stands up with the students to blame the government for the suffering of the white working-class community and those seeking asylum.
The programme does not shy away from showing the qualms one of the students, Jennifer, had about supporting her peers who were seeking asylum. The programme carefully handles her changing her mind and does not gloss over gritty arguments in the process. The solidarity in the face of attack is neither overly romanticised or sterilised.
Scenes depicting the “dawn raid patrols” are serious yet show a human sense of humour. Older residents take it in turn to keep watch from the top of the tower for immigration vans, alert a picket and the family under threat and hide the family in another flat until the police leave. There is a building of strength amongst those involved, until this direct action turns into mass pickets of the entrance to the tower block to prevent police entry.
Interviewed after events in 2008 by the Times Educational Supplement, the students said that they did not manage to protect everyone — the programme does show families being deported and the demoralising effect that this had on the students. The students make it very clear that despite the concessions they won — that students will not be deported during exam time — the struggle is not over for the rights of those claiming asylum in the UK.
I really enjoyed watching the adaptation of the Glasgow girls’ story and would recommend it. The human solidarity it captures is inspirational.
(Originally published in Solidarity 29 July 2014)