Theatre stars unite for reform of 'brutal' UK asylum system

Young Vic to stage play about life in notorious detention centre to show plight of women and child migrants

Stars of British theatre, film and television will tonight turn the spotlight on what they describe as the brutal treatment of women and children seeking asylum in the UK.

The award-winning actress Juliet Stevenson will lead the protest against conditions at the controversial Yarl's Wood immigration detention centre in Bedfordshire and the UK's treatment of Meltem Avcil, a 14-year-old Turkish asylum seeker.

Ms Stevenson, the star of the film Truly Madly Deeply, met Meltem and her mother Cennet in Yarl's Wood earlier this year and was so moved by the encounter that she decided to bring their stories, together with those of other asylum seekers, to life in a special Mother's Day performance at the Young Vic in London.

Ms Stevenson and her 13-year-old daughter Rosalind will perform in Motherland, a dramatisation of life in a British immigration detention centre. They will play the parts of Meltem Avcil and her mother, who were released from Yarl's Wood after a high-profile campaign.

"The brutality of the asylum process here is far more shocking than I realised," said Ms Stevenson. "I hope people will be moved. 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. We can't bring everyone to Yarl's Wood but we can bring Yarl's Wood to more people," she added.

A celebrity line-up is expected to support the event, including the actresses Thandie Newton and Harriet Walter, the novelist Susie Boyt and the restaurateur Ruth Rogers. Alan Rickman, Stevenson's co-star in Truly Madly Deeply, Baroness (Helena) Kennedy QC and the former England cricket captain Mike Brearley are also lending support to the campaign for an improved, more humane detention system.

The event is being organised by Women for Refugee Women, which will urge supporters to sign a Mother's Day petition to be sent to ministers. The petition calls on the Government to "ensure that the persecution women face, including rape, honour crimes and female genital mutilation, is taken seriously in asylum claims; we call on the Government not to make destitute, detain or deport women who are at risk of gender-related persecution."

It demands that Harriet Harman, the minister for women and equality, "push for justice for women in the asylum process, including full implementation of the gender guidelines introduced in 2004; access to quality legal representation for every woman asylum seeker; and an end to the detention of families and survivors of torture".

Although Meltem and her mother are now free, their future is far from certain as the Government is understood to still be pressing for their deportation.