Today, 12th December, the British public will be heading to the polls.
The result of this election is critical to many of us including refugees – there is simply so much at stake!
In the lead-up to the election, Scottish Refugee Council shared our key asks of political parties as they were forming their manifestos. Here I reflect on some of those asks with personal experience, and request some key policy changes that I wish to see. Please join us by supporting our campaigns, and thinking of these issues when you are at the ballot box today.
As it is also the beginning of “12 Days of Christmas”, we are thinking ahead to the festive season, a time for family, friends, celebration and reflection. But it is also a bleak time of destitution, homelessness, isolation and fear. I hope you will join me in reflecting on this past year and the change we hope the coming months will bring, regardless of the outcome of today’s vote.
We, along with many agencies and services in Glasgow will be closed over the festive period. Whilst we hope that Serco will be unable to evict people from their homes at any time, I particularly urge Serco, Mears and other providers across the UK to not evict people over the festive period by any means when they cannot access vital support services. Nobody should be forced into destitution with nowhere safe to go.
Safe and legal routes
This time last year, our TV screens were covered by the news of people crossing the Channel in small boats. A year on, these dangerous journeys have led to many risking and losing their lives at our border. The tragic incident in Essex where 39 people lost their lives must have been a watershed moment for the UK to think differently and offer people safe and legal routes to seek protection. I arrived in the UK in the back of a lorry in December 1999, and what happened in Essex really brought it all back. We need more safe and legal routes to protection – you can find more information about what this would entail here.
This Christmas as you are joining your family and loved ones, remember that many refugees will be separated from their loved ones by arbitrary family reunion rules. Over the summer, I had my own battle with the Home Office over my father’s visa who was denied a visa to participate in graduation ceremony for an honorary doctorate at the University of Glasgow. Thanks to all of you who stood with me to overturn this decision.
The special moments my family and I spent with my Dad reminded me once again how important family is and why people should be able to join their family, friends and loved one. Too many families are being torn apart by these hostile rules.
Not everyone is able to participate in the General Election. Refugees are people who have often fled regimes that have denied them their democratic rights such as voting and political participation. As a former refugee for me to vote for the first time was a significant milestone in my journey of integration but I believe everyone who is resident in the UK, including refugees and people seeking asylum, should have the right to vote in all elections.
We have been pleased to support first-time voters to register and share their stories this month, and we are influencing the Scottish Government to grant voting rights to everyone who is lawfully resident in Scotland.
Christmas can be a lonely time for many people. If you have more thank you need, share, volunteer, check in on your neighbours and those newly arrived seeking protection in our communities. Many people seeking asylum in the UK end up in destitution either when they are going through the asylum system or once they are recognised as refugees.
“This Christmas past, everybody was celebrating, having parties, having fun, having a good time with friends and relatives. I swear to God I was hungry at home and I had nothing.”
End detention – Imagine being locked up in indefinite detention over Christmas, or indeed any time of the year. Nobody should be detained, especially when they are fleeing detention and persecution in the country they have left behind. Detention is the costliest part of the UK asylum and immigration system, and was only designed as a last resort, but is increasingly being used as a holding facility. This week, Unlocked and Scottish Detainee Visitors are sharing stories from inside Dungavel, Scotland’s only detention centre – it is well worth your time to find out more about this.
Wishing you all the best over the festive season – look out for each other, we’ll get through difficult times if we work together.
Sabir ZazaiIn the news