Motherland is a must

7 March 2008

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): I was privileged to see Motherland directed by Juliet Stevenson last Sunday at the Young Vic. It was packed out and because of the demand they are now going to put on just two more performances both on Saturday 15 March. I have never seen anything quite like it, a skillful and engrossing mixture of drama and performance, witness and testimony, music and reporting. Go to it if you can. Its theme is the treatment and responses of children and mothers held in indefinite detention here in the UK because they are asylum seekers. It came about after Stevenson and Natasha Walter went to Yarl's Wood detention centre (one of 10 in the UK). They decided to give voice to those who could not speak. The script is read by young people as well as professional actors including Juliet Stevenson and her daughter Rosalind - Juliet also hosts the event very nicely. It is carefully dramatic. When it shocks you don't feel lectured you feel, well, you learn from a mother how she was separated from her new born child and offered pills to dry up her milk. After finally being rejoined with her skinny child it was suffering from "touch deprivation". This was described to us by Paola Dionisotti who acts one of the Yarl's Wood befrienders who help the mothers and provide intimate kit.

This inhuman treatment happens here in Britain, is what you understand, and not by chance but systemically; as also does resistance to it, including by officials. Helen Bamber, well known for her work for victims of torture, presents the "creative survival" music her Foundation supports:

While the show is mainly about the stories of those who opposed their expulsion, many are being returned every week to the atrocities abroad that the mothers seek to protect their families from by coming here. How did we get to the point, Helena Kennedy asks, when 'asylum seeker' is a phrase of abuse?One reason we got here is reflected in the fact that in the whole of his long speech on the British values behind Managed Migration and Earned Citizenship the Prime Minster gave last month, there was no mention of the historic tradition of this country of offering asylum to those in desperate need.

I also learnt that when the government was passing its excellent Childrens Act it suddenly realised what it meant and amended it to ensure it did not apply to itself when it imprisoned the children of Asylum speakers! I can't quite believe this yet - any help on the details welcome.

Go to Motherland if you can, support Women for Refugee Women if you can't.

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