I was born in Kurdistan in the north of Iraq. My family fled from persecution and war – my grandfather and three uncles were killed opposing Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. Another uncle was imprisoned and tortured for 15 years in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. My family and many others fought for democracy but our enemy was strong. If we had not fled our country, we would have been next.

That’s why my family had to make the difficult decision to leave our homeland. The journey was very difficult and dangerous. We were risking our lives if captured but we had to leave that life and seek sanctuary in Scotland.

I have always been political since childhood. Politics and activism are in my bones – awoken as a child growing up in Kurdistan, where my people were oppressed and persecuted under Saddam Hussein’s regime, and then steeled by my arrival in Scotland as a refugee.

One of the proudest days of my life was when I was elected as a councillor for my home city of Glasgow in May 2022. As a minority, being politically passive is a luxury I cannot afford. It can be tiring at times, but I feel it is both a privilege and a duty to speak up to defend our hard-won rights.

Minorities have always been forced to fight for our rights and justify our existence. My first foray into activism was as a teenager, when myself and fellow Drumchapel High Schoolers – dubbed the Glasgow Girls by The Herald – saw our friend and her family torn from their beds and detained by the Home Office.

As children our instinct was to fight back, we knew this treatment wasn’t right. We organised protests against the dawn raids and to end child detention. We fought long, and hard, and loudly for our friend, Agnesa, and her family. And we won.

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Myself, Agnesa and the rest of the Glasgow Girls remain great friends today. The campaign affected us in different ways and we have continued to contribute positively in Scotland. Ever since, I have committed myself to fighting for the rights of refugees and migrants. As a caseworker in the office of Chris Stephens MP I meet families who fled the direst of circumstances in their home countries every day. Yet they face further trauma here in Scotland, coming up against hostile UK government policies.

As we start 2024, I despair as I see the Tories expand their ideologically driven attacks on migrants and refugees. The issues of the Rwanda Bill and new visa restrictions, tearing families apart, are being debated by a government which scapegoats the most vulnerable for their own failings.

In particular, I am demoralised by the UK’s government attempt to force through the unjust and inhumane Rwanda policy which would see those seeking refuge forcibly removed to Rwanda. No one has been removed but just look at the current cost: £150 million in 2022, £100 million more in 2023 and plans are to send another £50 million every year from 2024-2026. One has to wonder just how much the Tories – the party of austerity – is willing to spend doubling down on this failed and immoral scheme.

The Herald: Roza Salih celebrates with her parents as she is electedRoza Salih celebrates with her parents as she is elected (Image: free)

The UK Supreme Court ruled in November that sending asylum seekers to Rwanda is unlawful and in breach of international law, including the European Convention on Human Rights and the Refugee Convention. Regardless the UK government ploughs on, turning its back on national and international obligations. This is not simply a matter of policy divergence or disagreement – these are rights which should never be up for debate.

We have to reshape the way we look at immigration here in Scotland. In order for our economy to grow, we need immigration. Scotland’s population is ageing as in other parts of Europe. We need an immigration system based not on exclusion but on need and, equally, on compassion and fairness.

I believe that the majority of migrants contribute to society in myriad ways – via tax revenues, with their innovation and cultural diversity.

In Germany and Scandinavia, asylum seekers have been granted the right to work while their applications have been processed as well. This is a policy which has been backed by the SNP but we do not yet have the power here in Scotland to fully roll it out.

At the moment, here in the UK, highly skilled people wait for years for their applications for asylum to be processed. If we allowed people to work as they were being assessed, it could add at least £30 million to Scotland’s economy on annual basis. It could also help cut the hotel bills the Tories are hellbent on paying.

That is why I have supported and encouraged politicians to support the Lift the Ban Campaign – a pressure group including a number of organisation and charities fighting to change the law for asylum seekers to have the right to work.

I have been a vocal advocate encouraging asylum seekers to be allowed to work, particularly in the understaffed social care sector. Care work – looking after our elderly and other vulnerable people – is currently listed on the ‘shortage occupation list’. Only those asylum seekers who have lived here for a year minimum can apply for such jobs. Imagine if this could apply to every job vacancy – asylum seekers and minorities could give back, occupy difficult to fill vacancies, and regain a sense of self-worth.

Tories continue to peddle lies about people coming to the UK and draining our resources, yet they won't allow asylum seekers who are ready to work to earn their own keep.

It is easy to despair at the UK s government’s dehumanising policies but there are always reasons for hope. I am uplifted every day by stories of people resisting.

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We can fight back like we did in Glasgow in summer 2021 in Kenmure Street, Pollokshields, when On the morning of 13 May 2021, two Sikh men of Indian origin living on Kenmure Street in the Pollokshields area of Glasgow were taken from their home and detained by the Home Office in a van on the street for alleged immigration violations. In response, neighbours and advocates organised a sit-in protest and surrounded a Home Office van for eight hours after two Sikh men of Indian origin were detained.

I know from personal experience that the people of Scotland are full of empathy – they took me and my friends in the Glasgow Girls to their hearts. People in Glasgow and across Scotland were willing to imagine what it might be like to walk in the shoes that I, and others, have walked in.

That is the solidarity I have seen in Scotland, and it gives me hope. And at the moment, we all need hope.

Roza Salih is an SNP councillor for the Greater Pollok ward on Glasgow City Council, and the first former refugee to be elected to political office in Scotland