Juliet Stevenson is truly, deeply sad about refugees

ACTRESS Juliet Stevenson has organised a special show to raise awareness of refugees being held in British detention centres

Tan Parsons

ACTRESS Juliet Stevenson has organised a special show to raise awareness of refugees being held in British detention centres.

The Highgate-based star of Truly Madly Deeply is set to take part in Motherland - a moving piece of theatre where actors will read the testimonies of women and children who have come to Britain seeking asylum.

She said: "I want people to be shifted. I think that if they really heard the forms of injustice and cruelty this system is inflicting on people perhaps they might be moved to take action.

"It's not going to be a miserable night - some of the stories are truly inspiring. I don't want it to be about telling sad stories - it's about showing people they can take practical action and getting a wider audience to think about what they can do to make a difference."

Motherland has been organised with the help of the campaign group Women For Refugee Women. It focuses particularly on conditions at the Yarl's Wood immigration removal centre in Bedfordshire, which Ms Stevenson visited in the autumn last year.

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She said: "It's a centre that is just for women and children - asylum seekers whose cases have failed or are under review. I met two women there - one is a Turkish Kurd and the other is from Azerbaijan.

"The centre operates just like a prison - there's heavy security with heavy doors and you get frisked on your way in. It's surrounded by high barbed wire - it's an internment camp. No-one in there has been through a court and no-one has legal entitlement to a lawyer. I was shocked.

"The women I met were in a terrible state of psychological collapse. They both have 13-year-old daughters who are having to parent their mothers and negotiate with lawyers. These are people who have been living peacefully in the UK for quite a few years and have not broken any of the rules governing asylum seekers. They were arrested at very short notice."

The disparity between the situation of these teenage asylum seekers and Ms Stevenson's own 13-year-old daughter left her shaken.

"Both of the girls are extremely bright, good students according to their teachers and they have just been pulled straight out of school," she said.

"The event I'm organising is about women and children. I think there are terrible circumstances that apply particularly to women because quite a large number have experienced rape or multiple rape. But almost none of them have any medical evidence.

"It is one issue that particularly pertains to these women and almost invariably the system fails them.

"I also feel very strongly about the fast-track asylum process. It can be brutal and means cases can be examined in a detention centre without medical evidence, a lawyer or even a proper interpreter. They have a 99 per cent failure rate.

"This doesn't seem to be a system that ensures the right people are being let in and the ones who shouldn't are kept out. What has this process been set up for and who is it meant to serve?"

Motherland is at The Young Vic Theatre on March 2 at 6pm. Tickets are available on 020-7922 2922 or www.youngvic.org.

All proceeds from the evening will go to Women For Refugee Women and the Yarl's Wood Befrienders who visit those being detained.