I fled the Taliban – now I'm using my democratic right to vote in the UK

'I love this country because it gives so much to the world: democracy, rule of law, human rights. Of course I will vote,' says Dr Nooralhaq Nasimi

As part of its election coverage, Yahoo News is speaking to voters around the country on the issues that will sway their vote. Read more from our election 'Your Voice' series here as we get closer to polling day on 4 July.

Dr Nooralhaq Nasimi says describes the UK as the most democratic society in the world. (X)
Dr Nooralhaq Nasimi says describes the UK as the most democratic society in the world. (X)

As 57-year-old Dr Nooralhaq Nasimi prepares to vote in the UK general election, he is reflecting on the privilege he feels in being able to participate at all. “This is the most democratic society in the world. The way they campaign, it isn’t the same in many other countries in the world,” he says. “I love this country because it gives so much to the world: democracy, rule of law, human rights. Of course I will vote.”

In 1999, his life looked very different. He was a refugee fleeing endless conflict and the iron rule of the Taliban inside Afghanistan, and reached British shores in the back of a refrigeration truck, an uncomfortable 12-hour final leg which he and his family were lucky to survive.

“It was very tough and difficult, a dangerous journey crossing so many borders from Afghanistan with my children. For the last leg it was dark and cold and there was low oxygen,” he says.

When he first arrived he resorted to scavenging for vegetables from market stalls at the end of the day and buying the cheapest possible meat to cook for his family. “I would buy meat which was one kilo for £1 because I was trying to save what little money i had to send back to Afghanistan and the butcher said ‘why do you buy that, is it for your dog?’,” he says. “I felt awful.”

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Half a century later, Nasimi, who is now settled in Hounslow, is the founder and director of the Afghanistan and Central Asian Association, a community organisation that supports refugees and helps them integrate into British society.

“I founded the organisation because I faced a lot of problems and challenges: isolation, language barriers, cultural barriers. I didn’t know how to participate in community life, how to enrol my children into the local school. I didn’t how to enrol me and my wife into the local college to improve my basic English language,” he says.

The organisation supports hundreds of people every year but he says he has never taken a holiday since the day he arrived in the UK. He has received an MBE for his community work.

Nasimi places great emphasis on his right to a secret ballot and so declines to share who he will be voting for on polling day, but says many recent government policies have played into his decision-making.

He has been disappointed by Rishi Sunak’s insistence on pushing through his plans to pass legislation allowing illegal migrants to be deported to Rwanda, a decision he calls “emotional and irrational”. “It reminds me of the history of British colonisation, when Indian and South Asian people were sent to Africa and the African people were sent to Jamaica. Now they want to repeat that same history.”

In addition, he reports that Afghan refugees in England have told him they would rather be returned to their home company than risk facing a new future in Rwanda because of the African nation’s poor record on human rights.

Nasimi is also disappointed that it has become so difficult to see a GP in his area in recent years, and dislikes the policy that has been introduced at his surgery that means you cannot make an appointment without having a telephone consultation first. Waiting lists are also a worry: “People are suffering because of the long lists and because they can’t afford private health.”

However, his experience in other areas is much more positive. He is a big supporter of benefit reform, and says under the Conservatives he has seen refugees who have been pushed to enter the workforce for the first time, because the rules for claiming sickness, disability and other benefits changed, who found that it transformed their lives. One neighbour, also an immigrant, who found stable work as a security guard reportedly told him “I’m now more healthy and more happy because when I was sitting at home I felt so anxious”.

Nasimi also welcomed the government’s support for small businesses and the charity sector during the COVID-19 pandemic, so that community organisations could stay afloat during periods of lockdown.

He uses his platform within the immigrant community to encourage those who have settled status and the right to vote to make sure their voice is heard on 4 July. However, he admits that there is a language barrier still preventing many people from exercising their democratic rights. “I can see from working with the grassroots that there are people there who can’t speak English and they are not participating in the election, they don’t care about it.”

Nasimi voted for Brexit in 2016 and would like to see the benefits of being able to build close relationships outside Europe to be realised, but believes that the only way to achieve this now will be to increase funding the Foreign Office. “Britain is a leading nation in the world and Britain should engage with global policy, not just the EU,” he says.

Above all, though, he has trust that whoever is elected will fulfil their duties. “I don’t think there is any doubt.”

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