June 10 2015: Glasgow Girls 10 years on, why more needs to be done to improve lives of refugees and asylum seekers

The Evening Times, June 10 2015

They were seven ordinary girls who fought for human rights, helped to change immigration laws and even inspired a musical.

But Glasgow Girl Roza Salih believes the treatment of asylum seekers in the UK is getting worse.

The 26-year-old spoke out as the Scottish Refugee Council prepares to stage a special event to mark 10 years of the group who went to Drumchapel High School.

The school friends caught the imagination of the public when they took a stand against the treatment of asylum seekers following a dawn raid on the family of fellow pupil Agnesa Murselaj, a Roma from Kosovo.

The campaign by Roza, from Kurdistan, along with Amal Azzudin, from Somalia, Ewelina Siwak, a Polish Roma, Emma Clifford, Jennifer McCarron and Toni Henderson, from Drumchapel, as well as Agnesa, led to them visiting the Scottish Parliament.

Their campaign also contributed to the government decision to drop the policy of detaining children for immigration purposes in 2010.

Despite their achievements, Roza and Amal – the most active campaigners of the group – believe there is still a lot of work to be done.

Roza, who is vice president of diversity and advocacy at Strathclyde University, said she felt the treatment of people who have fled their home countries to find safety in the UK was “moving backwards”.

It came following reports of a dawn raid on a family of asylum seekers in Glasgow at the end of last month.

The Home Office declined to comment on the case.

Roza said: “We started our campaign when dawn raids happened, and there was just recently a family whose kids and mother were deported back.

“At the dawn raid of Agnesa we brought her back. After 10 years it feels like we didn’t accomplish anything.”

Despite this frustration, Roza is positive.

She said: “I think from the Glasgow Girls campaign we changed the people’s perspective in Scotland.

“Scotland is very pro migrants.”

Roza and Amal, who were both asylum seekers, are determined to change things for future generations.

Amal said: “For me campaigning is a huge part of my life. It’s frustrating.

“Any change even if it’s slow is something, it’s better than nothing. I think it would be great if we had somebody in parliament representing what we want.”

That person could be Roza, who says she may consider a bid for Holyrood if the opportunity came up.

Roza said: “I feel like if you have the power to change things then you can be more influencing [of] the policy and legislation.

“That could be done through speaking to MPs and MSPs. You could also be a member of the Scottish Parliament. I might consider becoming a politician.”

Roza says education helped her. She has fought hard to gain three scholarships for asylum seekers at Strathclyde University – and other universities are following her lead.

She said: “I wanted to widen access for those minority and vulnerable people.

“I stood for the position then I campaigned on getting scholarships for asylum seekers.”

And she’s even influenced her family – Roza’s dad Saleem Salih, 54, will graduate at Strathclyde in mathematics and statistics this year.

“I’m really proud of him,” said Roza.

Amal recently completed a Masters degree in human rights and politics at Glasgow University in December.

She has also worked at the Mental Health Foundation for just over three years, where she works to support female asylum seekers and refugees.

At the weekend Amal was one of 67 people to receive a prestigious Change Maker award from the South Bank Centre in London.

In 10 years’ time the pair hope the immigration system will be different.

Roza said: “I have a few friends who are asylum seekers and they are going through a really tough time, with benefits being cut, locks (on homes) being changed.

“I’ve actually given out money to people – more than £200, £300.

“These people are starving.”

Amal added: “I want a system that’s humane and treats people the way they deserve to be treated.

“It doesn’t seem to be getting any better, the dawn raids are back again.

“That’s the reason we started the campaign.”

The young women are keen for more people to come on board with the movement.

Roza said: “Everyone needs to do their bit.”

Amal added: “The Glasgow Girls has always been more than seven girls.”

The Glasgow Girls event will take place at the CCA on Sunday at 5pm as part of Refugee Festival Scotland.

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