A Sudanese refugee who has been resettled in Stirling is looking forward to voting in a democratic election for the first time in today’s (6 May) Scottish Parliamentary Elections.

Salah Komi (45), who is from the Nuba Mountains area of Sudan, arrived in Stirling almost two years ago as part of the Syrian Refugee Resettlement Scheme.

In February 2020, the Scottish Parliament passed a new *law which extends the right to vote in Scottish elections to people who are over 16 and live in Scotland. This includes people with refugee status.

For many refugees, including Salah, this will be their first opportunity to cast a vote in a democratic election.

Happiest man in the world

Salah said: “I’m really looking forward to voting on Thursday and it will be really pleasing to have a say on what government we elect - I’ll be the happiest man in the world!

“In Sudan we didn’t have such a process for election, but I know how to vote and the processes involved by attending some sessions, reading things online and watching a lot of the debates and TV programmes.”

To help local refugees understand the voting process, Stirling Council’s Learning and Employability team and Forth Valley Welcome have run workshops for the new voters, collaborating with the Scottish Refugee Council and the Electoral Commission.

Significant and positive contribution

Stuart Oliver, Stirling Council Senior Manager Economic Development and Communities, said: “It’s fantastic that our resettled refugees in Stirling can now cast their vote in Scottish elections. 

“You can tell how much this means to Salah and the other families, and it will make them feel a greater part of our communities where they make such a significant and positive contribution.

“Ahead of the election we have collaborated with a number of organisations to help our resettled families in Stirling understand the voting process to ensure they can fully exercise their democratic right.”

Support to adapt and integrate

Stirling has participated in the Syrian Refugee Resettlement Scheme since its launch in 2005 as a response to the Syrian crisis.

Under the initiative, 20,000 people have been resettled across the UK. Currently there are 11 families displaced by the Syrian crisis and violence in Sudan living, working and studying in Stirling.

Refugees who come to Stirling as part of the programme are given intensive support to adapt and integrate to their new life.

This includes:

  • A tailored English language programme developed by the Council’s Learning and Employability Team which helps people return to the workplace or undertake further study.
  • A Money Advice programme, led by the Council’s Advice and Welfare Reform Service, that helps people access the support they need to navigate the support system in Scotland and make the most of their money.
  • Support from Forth Valley Welcome who provide material support when families first arrive in the area, such as providing befrienders to each family to help them build friendships and social networks and navigate life in their new country.

Right at home

Since arriving in Stirling under the scheme in June 2018, Salah has been active in the community, volunteering with the local foodbank and attending classes with Stirling Council, Stirling School of English and Forth Valley College.

His hard work has been rewarded with a place at Stirling University on the Access to Degree Studies (Science) programme starting in August. His goal is for a career in IT after completing his degree.

Positive about his future, Salah feels right at home in Stirling and Scotland due to the surroundings and the warm welcome he has received. 

He said: “As soon as I arrived in Scotland, I felt at home as it is similar to where I was born in the Nuba Mountains in Sudan. Like here, the landscape there is very green and I hope to remain here forever.

“The people here are very supportive to you and if I you have a problem, they reach out to you, so it’s a really nice atmosphere.”

Part of the fabric of Stirling

Mr Oliver added: “The Council works with refugees to help them start their new lives and it’s tremendous to see them make such great strides in their adopted homeland, especially after the upheaval they have gone through to get here.

“We are really proud of them and it’s important these achievements are recognised as they continue to become part of the fabric of Stirling.”

More information and picture details:

* Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Act 2020

Picture shows Salah Komi with his voting card on Stirling’s historic Broad Street, near the Tolbooth and Mar’s Walk.