Birmingham City Council invited local and European leaders to discuss how democracy works for minorities.
Local Councillor Paulette Hamilton, Amsterdam City Councillor Meltem Kaya, British Arab Association Chairman Fadel Takrouri disagreed on how well minorities are represented by politicians today.
Watch the participants debate on what the biggest challenges and possible solutions are:
Birmingham City Council, together with The French Institution for International Relations, organised two conferences at the end of September, in Birmingham. Local and European politicians, as well as community leaders, debated the challenges faced by different ethnic groups.
Yemeni community – not enough represented?
Fadel Takrouri identifies challenges for the Arabic communities in Birmingham:
“With these communities, the pressures of life, the barriers of language, the lack of of democratic heritage. You come from Yemen, there is no democratic heritage.”
Also, the Chairman of British Arab Association considers local politicians do not do enough to help:
“One of the oldest ethnic minorities in Birmingham is the Yemeni community. The political parties, all of them, did not do any effort to try to appeal to the Yemenis. They are a substantial vote, but when it came to participation, they are not there.”
Takrouri blames the communities partly, but the political parties mostly for the situation he identifies:
“I blame the communities 30-40%, but I blame the political parties 60% for this”.
Some of the biggest problems the Arabic communities face, according to him, are high unemployment, violence against women and female genital mutilation (FGM). He says Birmingham City Council has not addressed FGM at all through local policies.
“They don’t want to get involved with politics”
Councillor Paulette Hamilton shares her experience with local communities:
“The issues is they don’t engage. You go into their shops, their communities and they don’t to hear about it. They don’t want to get involved with politics.”
Of Caribbean origin herself, Paulette talks about how not all ethnic minorities could have a councillor:
“If you have 102 communities in a city, not every community will be represented. The communities know how hard it is to support their councillors through the years.”
Paulette mentions that 20 councillors currently come from ethnic minorities in Birmingham. She informs that there is a community partnership programme currently running against domestic violence, which addresses FGM as well.
Politicians with strong moral values
Local religious leader Prof. Upkar Singh Pardesi, Vice Chairman at Nishkam Sikh Centre, says:
“We should elect good human beings to represent us in politics”
Watch Upkar Singh Pardesi talk about what good politics means to him:
The Sikh leader expressed his opinion that politicians should have good moral values. These values would be the guarantee they represented everybody, regardless of the minority they came from.
As for Birmingham, Upkar Singh says:
“I could not find, and believe me, I am well travelled, another city where I would rather live than Birmingham”
Also, he added that religious centres should not be “fortresses”, but “places of welcome” for all people.
10 million euros for refugees’ language classes
An immigrant herself, Amsterdam councillor Meltem Kaya moved to the Netherlands when she was only a child. In the Netherlands, according to her, the law requires for all immigrants to learn the language if they want to stay.
However, she talks about a programme of 10 million euros invested in free language classes for the refugees. Kaya was asked where the money comes from.
She says the 5% taxes for tourists who visit the city of Amsterdam were raised to 6%, and the extra money was all directed towards these funds. Such taxation, according to her, does not burden the local population, and individual tourists do not even feel it.
Most participants at the debate stressed on how important it is for politicians and leaders to learn from each other and the solutions they have found in their respective cities or communities.