OVER the few months, collectively, we have been campaigning to include the voices of those who are seeking asylum and refuge to have the right to vote in Scottish elections. It has been a very powerful experience for all of us as we listened and heard the importance of giving voting rights for asylum seekers and refugees.

Voting rights should be a basic human right in a democratic society for people to have the right to vote in decisions which impact on their lives, communities and families. Having the right to vote will mean providing a platform for people to express their views, make their voices heard and allow them to share ideas to shape the country.

With the Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Bill, refugees will now be able to vote in future Scottish elections. This means voices of those who have been living in Scotland for years will be heard. People will be able to participate in democracy and politics. People will share their views by casting and using their basic right of voting. Hundreds of people who came here as refugees will now participate in democracy.

Scotland is once again leading the discussion for welcoming people by giving refugees the right to vote. However, we must do more by giving voting rights for people seeking asylum too. If we are a welcoming country, we must ensure everyone has and practices the democratic right to share their views on decisions which will have a huge impact in their lives and community. We must remember people seeking asylum are part of the community and have been here for many years. Sadly, not being able to vote is one of the many ongoing barriers which people experience while seeking asylum. Not being able to work, detention, and destitution are only some of the barriers created by the

unjust immigration policies which asylum seekers face.

We must ensure to give voting rights to people seeking asylum. If the Government wants people to integrate, then they must ensure voices are heard. People seeking asylum are part of the community and their voices needs to be heard for inclusion, being part of society and to practice their basic human right in a democratic society.

By excluding rights of voting, people’s voices are being silenced once again. It is a huge achievement to give voting rights for refugees, now we need to send out a strong message to the rest of the world by giving voting rights for people seeking asylum. This way, we are demonstrating how you can welcome people and not differentiate one another by labels, instead, showing everyone is a citizen of the country.

This is a big step in this hostile environment which has been destroying many lives over the years by deportation, destitution, taking away people’s talents and skills and voting rights.

Recently, I have been asked a very interesting question: “Would you allow a guest in your house to change your curtains?” Yes, I would, as it would be the perfect way of demonstrating hospitality, welcoming and giving a platform to share ideas and voices to make this house a better place to live. With ongoing discriminations across the country to divide and destroy communities, it is now we must welcome people by removing

barriers and labels so we can all see each other as a human.