Scotland’s first refugee councillor Roza Salih on Iraq hell… and escaping to Glasgow


WHAT made Roza Salih? Was it the blood on her avenue when she was a bit lady? Was it the demise of her grandfather and her uncles? Was it the gun her dad saved shut at hand? Was it the detention camp and the guards? The high-rise in Drumchapel or the hills in Kurdistan? The moments of racism? Or the moments of kindness? Roza Salih is aware of who she is. “I’m a Glasgow lady,” she says. However changing into it has been exhausting.

The probabilities are you’ll know a bit of Roza’s story already. You could have seen the stage play or the documentaries that had been impressed by the story of how she and 6 different schoolgirls fought to forestall the deportation of considered one of their buddies – and gained. They grew to become referred to as the Glasgow Ladies and, some 15 years on and now of their early thirties, they continue to be shut buddies. Their bond – and their beliefs – are nonetheless sturdy.

And for Roza, the marketing campaign goes on. Just lately elected as a councillor for Pollok in Glasgow – making her the primary refugee ever to be elected to a Scottish council – she says that at some point she’d wish to be an MSP and assist arrange a brand new immigration system in Scotland. She is aware of how harsh the present one will be. She remembers her father shedding his proper to work and the way employees in a store refused to simply accept her mom’s meals vouchers. It was humiliating, says Roza, and we are able to do higher. She thinks we might have a system primarily based on frequent sense and compassion.

So the place does all of the dedication and perception come from? Quite a lot of it’s from her extraordinary mother and father: dad Saleem and mum Tania. As we speak, Roza and Tania are assembly me within the Starbucks on the Silverburn cinema close to Roza’s workplace and, whereas the place buzzes with music and children and other people heading to see the brand new Elvis film, the 2 ladies discuss in regards to the life they used to have in Kurdistan – the life they needed to flee.

It was the late Nineteen Nineties. The household had been dwelling within the metropolis of Sulaymaniyah, within the Kurdistan area of Iraq. Saleem was a trainer and Tania was an accountant for an electrical energy agency. Financially, they had been comfy, however in each different respect life was exhausting. Tania was a campaigner for ladies’s rights and Saleem was energetic within the Kurdistan Employees’ Celebration and in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, each of these issues meant hazard.

Tania tells me what it was like. “There have been killings, there was violence, there have been executions, there was nothing to be joyful about,” she says. Lots of her family had been within the Communist occasion and all of them had been energetic within the struggle to win Kurdish independence from Iraq. Certainly one of Tania’s brothers, Jamal, was killed by Saddam Hussein’s forces within the mountains; one other, Rizgar, was despatched to the notorious Abu Ghraib jail. He was initially sentenced to demise and it was solely when the household paid an enormous bribe that he was despatched to jail for all times as a substitute.

Tania shakes her head as she remembers. “Typically now,” she says, “I think about that life and I don’t perceive how we coped. It was exhausting.” Very often the household would see violence within the streets outdoors their residence – Roza remembers swimming pools of blood on the street, and her father, a Kalashnikov in his hand, hiding her in the home. Two of her uncles had been executed. And her grandfather. Ultimately the household determined they needed to get out or die.

Roza was 11 when all of this was occurring and he or she remembers it vividly. “I grew up in a short time due to it,” she says. “I’ve seen issues {that a} youngster shouldn’t see. Folks getting killed. Folks shot on the street in entrance of our residence. I didn’t have a correct childhood. Most Scots couldn’t think about what I’ve gone by way of. To be sincere, I’m glad I’m not there.”

Because the violence escalated, her dad Saleem made the choice that they needed to get out and he got here to the UK first to plan the household’s escape. The plan was that he would then apply to have his household over too, however earlier than lengthy Tania realised that they couldn’t keep one other minute and needed to get out immediately. So in 2001, they paid a big amount of cash for a ticket out, they left their home behind and headed for Turkey, then the UK.

Their first expertise of the nation was a detention camp in London and it wasn’t good. Nobody was allowed to go to and nobody was allowed to depart and there have been safety guards on responsibility to make sure the foundations had been obeyed. “None of us might communicate English,” says Roza. “The one phrase we knew was ‘no English’. My sister was one years outdated and I used to be scared for her probably the most as a result of she was so younger. We had been leaving our residence nation. We didn’t know the place we had been going. We couldn’t communicate the language. It was terrifying.”

The following stage was Glasgow: Knightswood, then Drumchapel, the place they lived in a tower block and once more, the adjustment was exhausting. Isolation. Racism. “In Drumchapel, we had some points with racism,” says Roza, however by now her English was enhancing and he or she would communicate to folks instantly. “As soon as I spoke to the folks, they they might see I’m built-in and so they had a special mindset in the direction of you.” One other concern was fear about security. Roza remembers strolling from the station down darkish lanes with a rape alarm in her hand.

The household had been additionally battling an immigration system Roza says is intentionally harsh. “The system is designed to psychologically have an effect on folks,” she says, “to make folks’s lives depressing, it’s designed to maintain folks out and deter folks from coming right here. It’s designed to be as horrible as potential.” In 2002, her father, who had been working as an interpreter, was advised his proper to work had been rescinded. He might not work or earn cash – a scenario that wasn’t resolved for eight years.

It meant cash was tight and the household had been utilizing authorities vouchers to purchase meals. “I keep in mind as soon as I went with mum to a grocery store and so they didn’t settle for the vouchers,” says Roza. “It was actually humiliating.” Tania tells me folks within the queue provided to pay for his or her procuring however she wouldn’t allow them to. That has been their expertise in Scotland in some ways: kindness on the one hand, racism on the opposite; acceptance and rejection.

All of those early experiences – in addition to the conversations the household had about politics and girls’s rights after they nonetheless lived in Kurdistan – had been serving to to kind Roza’s ideas and beliefs in addition to her willingness to face up for them. I ask Tania what Roza was like as a lady. “She all the time had ardour,” says Tania, “She was seven when she was speaking about what to do in Kurdistan. She was captivated with politics as a baby – all the time.”

At college in Drumchapel, one other influential determine was Roza’s English trainer Euan Girvan. It was Mr Girvan who inspired Roza and her buddies to kind the Glasgow Ladies in response to the detention of their buddy Agnesa Murselaj, from Kosovo. They campaigned for her launch, met First Minister Jack McConnell, and ultimately gained their marketing campaign in 2008 when the Murselaj household was given go away to stay. That marketing campaign remains to be a big a part of who Roza is. “We shaped the Glasgow Ladies as a result of the immigration system is terrible,” she says. “I’ve needed to struggle all my life since I’ve come to this nation. Why are we detaining folks as criminals?”

The expertise as a Glasgow Lady remains to be one of many components that instantly informs Roza’s new job as a councillor. Better Pollok, she says, has the third largest ethnic minority inhabitants of any ward in Scotland and he or she desires to characterize everybody. Certainly one of her different priorities is security for lady – she nonetheless remembers strolling in worry down these lanes in Drumchapel and wish to see extra avenue lighting in her ward. She would additionally wish to see extra range within the job she does – considered one of her first impressions of strolling into the council chamber was that there have been plenty of older males. She desires to see extra councillors like her.

As an SNP councillor, the opposite nice precedence in her politics is Scottish independence and it’s a dedication that has a direct and highly effective hyperlink to her life earlier than she got here to Scotland. Kurdistan contains territory in Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria and for many years many Iraqi Kurds, together with Roza’s family, have been pursuing independence. A referendum held by regional officers in 2017 acquired a majority that Nicola Sturgeon can absolutely solely dream of: 92% for Sure. The long run doesn’t look good although: Roza doesn’t imagine she is going to see independence for Kurdistan in her lifetime.

For a younger Kurdish Scot like Roza, the parallels between Scotland and Kurdistan are apparent and highly effective. “There are plenty of similarities,” she says, “as a result of Kurdistan is a nation or a rustic that wish to be unbiased and self-rule and never be ruled by different folks. That’s why I joined the SNP – it’s due to the independence motion and that identification I’ve inside my household – my uncles and my father all fought for democracy and freedom.”

The SNP was not essentially Roza’s solely selection nevertheless, coming as she does from a radical background and a household of socialists. There was a time, she says when she might need joined Labour nevertheless it was the tough therapy of her father in 2002, beneath a Labour authorities, that turned her towards the occasion. One other early expertise was doing work expertise in Nicola Sturgeon’s workplace in 2006. “I feel she had an impact on me as an individual as a result of I noticed her as a powerful lady and he or she knew what she needed for Scotland,” she says. Wanting again, she thinks that have was a turning level for her.

Because it occurs, she didn’t truly be a part of the SNP till 2015 after the joy of campaigning for Sure. Her quick time as a councillor – in addition to her work within the workplace of the MP Chris Stevens – has additionally made her realise there’s plenty of work to do. It’s attention-grabbing that the Glasgow Ladies themselves had been a microcosm of Scotland as a complete: break up down the center, with some for Sure, some for No and a few undecided. There’s additionally nonetheless sturdy assist for Labour in Pollok and different areas prefer it. Roza thinks it is about half and half SNP/Labour and that’s not a nasty factor, she says, we should always have totally different voices.

As for the concept of a referendum subsequent 12 months, Roza tells me she’s assured it’s going to occur, though it’s not probably the most convincing expression of confidence I have to say. She additionally says that if Sure is to win sooner or later, the marketing campaign should be totally different to the one in 2014 which she thinks was centred an excessive amount of on Glasgow.

“Our independence marketing campaign might have been higher organised,” she says. “We are able to do higher this time. We must always concentrate on sure cities as a substitute of Glasgow – we all know Glasgow can be Sure. I felt prefer it was very primarily based in Glasgow.”

I ask her about my residence city of Aberdeen. “That’s a metropolis I feel we must be specializing in,” she says. “Aberdeen is generally wealthy folks, I’m sorry. Oil folks just like the revenues. The mindset may be very capitalist and the way in which they’re considering is ‘I’m good, why ought to I vote for Sure? I’ve an excellent incomes, I’m wealthy, this isn’t good for me, I’ll be voting No’. They don’t perceive what’s necessary. If we grow to be unbiased, oil performs an enormous half. Folks can ‘say we don’t have revenues’ however we do have oil and Scotland solely will get 9 per cent of that oil.” Sure, however the oil value crashed didn’t it? “Sure, nevertheless it’s elevated now.” What any referendum marketing campaign must do, she says, is get by way of to folks on increased incomes, comparable to these within the oil trade.

“That must be the main focus,” she says, “as a result of we have to win them over and I’d argue for the advantages but in addition the weaknesses that there are within the UK. Brexit, which is vastly damaging the economic system, our fisheries have been affected. We’re taking place economically.” However don’t folks fear about their prosperity, their pensions? “Folks have already paid their pensions to the UK and they need to get their share of that cash and that’s how we are able to resolve the argument. It’s our cash. It’s the pensioners’ cash, they need to get it.”

We discuss a bit extra about a few of the different potential financial and sensible penalties of independence, however in some ways her type of nationalism is less complicated than that and relies on a pure concept of self-rule, impressed instantly by the story of her household, of Kurdistan and her mother and father. “My mum and pa have been an distinctive and extraordinary affect on me,” she says. “They formed me and gave me freedom to exit and be concerned which was necessary as a lady.” She by no means felt the necessity to insurgent towards them, she says, as a result of they had been all the time so open-minded She would exit to bars along with her Scottish buddies (and her favorite present is Nonetheless Sport) however she can be fiercely and instantly linked to her Kurdish story. “I’ve a Kurdish identification,” she says, “however I’ve a Scottish identification as effectively.”

This twin identification, says Roza, is the important thing to doing immigration higher – assist folks to combine, she says, and it work effectively. However she additionally realises there’s nonetheless plenty of progress to be made. She tells me in regards to the campaigning she did for the council elections and all of the incidents of racism and sexism she skilled. I ask her if racism and sexism are nonetheless severe issues in Scotland and her reply is evident: sure, positively.

“I spoke with so many individuals throughout my marketing campaign,” she says. “You get some who’re very good however then you definately get others who would ask ‘are you not too younger as a lady to be concerned?’ There’s additionally plenty of oblique racism comparable to ‘what’s your accent? The place does that accent from? The place are you from initially?’ I’d say I grew up in Glasgow and all I’ve identified is Glasgow – possibly my accent is totally different as a result of I communicate different languages however that doesn’t make me much less of a Scot.” She doesn’t suppose the issue is as severe because it in another elements of the UK nevertheless. “I’ve been welcomed by lots of people and the alternatives which were supplied to me have been wonderful. That acceptance has given me the values I’ve. I’m very grateful.”

One of the crucial hanging examples of the acceptance she’s acquired has been her election as a councillor, which Nicola Sturgeon mentioned introduced a tear to her eye. Roza’s mom can be exceptionally proud. “I used to be very joyful to see her campaigning,” says Tania. “We have now to provide again one thing as a result of we’re protected and dwelling a greater life. I all the time taught my daughter to provide again.”

As for the query of whether or not Tania or Roza will ever return to Kurdistan at some point, it’s not trying good. The closest Roza ever acquired was a pupil journey to Turkey however Tania says it’s nonetheless far too harmful to return. “I’d love to return,” she says, “nevertheless it’s nonetheless not protected – not in our place as a result of I used to be a pacesetter for ladies.” Some progress has been made within the cities, she says, however elsewhere within the nation, the place of ladies remains to be poor and the federal government is doing nothing. “They’re towards ladies’s rights in order that they threaten to kill me,” she says. “I nonetheless have enemies who would need to kill me.”

In some methods, although, Tania is optimistic. Iraq might be a wealthy nation, she says – richer even than Britain – and has a lot potential. She can be joyful that different relations who fled Kurdistan settled throughout Europe and at the moment are dwelling joyful lives in Sweden, Germany and Greece. As for the UK, like her daughter, she wish to see enhancements to the immigration system so others would not have to expertise what they did. When Roza completed highschool, for some time she was blocked from going to school due to her migrant standing and that isn’t honest says Tania.

Roza herself would additionally wish to see enhancements however as she seems world wide she’s not all the time optimistic. She mentions ladies’s rights in America and asks ‘the place are we going?’ The image in Kurdistan additionally will get her down. “There’s plenty of corruption in Kurdistan and there have been individuals who betrayed my uncle and my household who died for the reason for independence,” she says. “My household had been hoping for the Kurdish folks to be a beacon of hope for the center east – that’s what we fought for nevertheless it’s not there. The society goes backwards.”

For Scotland, nevertheless, she’s way more hopeful, though she admits we’ve the identical issues others do. “I’ve folks treating me otherwise on a regular basis as a lady from an ethnic minority,” she says, “Typically I ignore it and concentrate on the optimistic issues in society nevertheless it’s exhausting. I’m going to be sincere with you. I generally suppose why am I being handled this fashion? Is it as a result of the color of my pores and skin isn’t white sufficient?”

However Roza does have a plan. She’s a councillor now and is beginning to become familiar with what bothers her constituents (bins, potholes and grass reducing in that order). She’d additionally wish to be an MSP and assist to determine the immigration system in a newly unbiased Scotland. However no matter she does, she is going to absolutely apply the fervour she discovered within the hills of Kurdistan and the high-rises of Drumchapel. She’s a Glasgow Lady and all the time can be.

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