‘This country I came to for refuge for peace …’

‘This country I came to for refuge for peace …’


Written by: Harmit Athwal

Victoria Brittain’s touching new play ‘Waiting’ is based on the hitherto unheard testimonies of women suffering as a result of the war on terror.

The verbatim play, shown recently at the Southbank, is based on interviews and conversations carried out by Victoria Brittain over many years with eight women whose lives (and those of their families) have been irrevocably changed by anti-terror laws. These are wives of men, suspected of being involved in terrorism, many of whom came to the UK seeking refuge, now held either in prison or under control orders indefinitely. We heard from two women whose husbands were detained in Guant√°namo Bay and five others who were married to men detained here in the UK, in the aftermath of 9/11 and then held under control orders.

The simple staging of ‘Waiting’ reflected the starkness of life experienced by the women and their families – the dialogue of reality was the most compelling aspect of the play. Slowly building as the women revealed their fears and constant battles with the state for a semblance of normality for their families.

We are used to reading in the press about the experiences of the victims of terrorist atrocities, and feeling their suffering. The women whose stories are told in ‘Waiting’, are also victims – victims of the overwhelming power of the British state that incarcerates Muslims in a separate criminal justice system beyond the ordinary rule of law.

Two of the stories were sung, which was unusual but strangely moving. Accompanied by Oliver Coates on the cello, the music and song lent depth of emotion and the repetition of the chorus: ‘This country I came to for refuge for peace’ was hauntingly effective.

The portrayal by Simone James (currently in BBC soap Eastenders) of Alexia, a Senegalese refugee, was as majestic and poignant as Juliet Stevenson’s portrayal of Sabah, Jamil el-Banna’s wife, was slowly intense.

Victoria Brittain is to be saluted for telling the untold stories of these women and although ‘Waiting’ was only on for two nights, last weekend, at the Purcell Room on the Southbank, hopefully the play will be invited to tour across the UK and, perhaps even, the US.

Related links

Metta Theatre

Read an article by Victoria Brittain in the Guardian: ‘Waiting: detainees’ wives get a voice their husbands never had’

Read an article by Victoria Brittain in the Race & Class: ‘Besieged in Britain’


Helping Households Under Great Stress (Hhugs)

Campaign Against Criminalising Communities – CAMPACC

The Coalition Against Secret Evidence (CASE)

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.