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Scotland And Refugees: A Healthy Relationship

Scotland’s decision to grant refugees the vote further shreds of evidence of its progressive and inclusive approach to displaced people. 

Other parts of the UK could learn a great deal about the social integration of refugees by looking at the positive example set north of the border. Standing in stark contrast to the Conservative’s ‘Hostile Environment’, the Scottish Government’s attitude towards persons seeking asylum is one of tolerance, openness and respect.

Given that the Westminster government frequently treats refugees with contempt-for example by voting against enshrining family reunification legislation within the Brexit Withdrawal Bill- it is reassuring and heartening to see Scotland standing up for those who are most vulnerable.

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    Overview

    The decision to extend voting rights to refugees is a major step forward. It communicates Scotland’s determination to welcome displaced people into the country and ensure that they play an active role in society.

    Making refugees part of the political process is conducive to their overall social integration. It gives them a much-needed voice, a sense of belonging and a vital source of empowerment. All of these things are especially needed at a time when the demonisation and vilification of refugees and migrants more broadly is all too common.

    The decision to extend voting rights to refugees is a major step forward.

    Discussing the recent enfranchisement of refugees, Scottish Cabinet Secretary Michael Russell said:

    ‘This Bill… reflects the reality of modern Scotland: a nation committed to robustly meeting our duties to the treaties that safeguard our human rights, that welcomes those who seek to join our society, and gives a democratic voice to the most marginalised in our communities’.

    The passing of the bill means that all individuals with leave to remain are able to vote in both local and national elections. In addition, those with Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) are now able to stand as candidates in Scottish elections.

    With only a handful of nations currently providing foreign nationals with the right to vote- and a number of these only doing so after three years of lawful residence- the Scottish Government should be commended for its boldness.

    The enfranchisement of refugees would have been far more difficult were it not for the work of the Scottish Refugee Council, who began lobbying for the bill back in 2018. When it became law, the SRC’s Policy Officer Lorna Gledhill said:

    ‘MSPs are sending a clear message that Scotland is a welcoming, inclusive country, where everyone is treated equally no matter where they are from.’

    Further demonstrating a robust commitment to safeguarding vulnerable people, Scotland has welcomed 3500 Syrian refugees in the last five years. This number constitutes 16% of the UK’s total, despite Scotland’s population forming just 8% of the overall UK population. At the end of 2017, Scotland welcomed its 2000th Syrian refugee, and in doing so, met its resettlement target three years ahead of schedule.

    With only a handful of nations currently providing foreign nationals with the right to vote- and a number of these only doing so after three years of lawful residence- the Scottish Government should be commended for their boldness.

    The eagerness to make a positive difference to the lives of those fleeing conflict is a much-needed tonic in an era that has seen the Hostile Environment cause such misery. Last year alone, 650 refugees were resettled in Scotland via the Vulnerable Person’s Resettlement Scheme (VPRS).

    SNP MSP Keith Brown had this to say:

    ‘I am proud that Scotland is stepping up to our global responsibilities in tackling the refugee crisis, and supporting people forced to flee war and violence in their home country’.

    It is somewhat remarkable that, on such a small island, there are two governments with such contrasting attitudes towards displaced people. If we are to become a truly just society, the rest of the UK must follow Scotland’s lead. Those seeking asylum have often endured unspeakable horrors in their country of origin- ensuring that we are welcoming and supportive is the very least that can be done.

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