2015•12•02 Barcelona, Spain
On November 26, UNU-GCM and Casa Asia organized a round table on immigration and political participation in Barcelona. The panel featured members of Asian communities in Barcelona who are participants in the political life of the city as members of political parties, participants in associations, and leaders of their communities. Speakers included Huma Jamshed and Tauqueer Chaudry of Pakistani origin, Dai Huadong from the Chinese community, Nazrul I Chowdhury from Bangladesh and Rosa Irasusta from the Philippines, along with the newly appointed commissioner of immigration in the city of Barcelona Lola López.
Huma Jamshed began by explaining her motivations for becoming involved in politics as a way to have a voice, freedom and empowerment in Barcelona, a sentiment that was echoed by other participants. She further emphasized the need for participation in all aspects of daily life city, starting at the grassroots levels (school, parents’ associations, neighbourhood associations, etc).
Nazrul I Chowdhury insisted that immigrants are unable to have real participation in local politics without the right to vote, emphasizing that the ban makes them feel excluded from political processes. While many participants agreed on the importance of being able to vote as a way to participate in formal politics, they also identified alternative forms of political participation. For example, Rosa Irasusta explained how her work as a leader of the Filipino cultural center has enabled the Filipino community to become aware of their rights and defend them, especially in the field of domestic work.
The discussion also considered the particular challenges for female immigrants to access the political sphere. All the representatives agreed on the major difficulties for women to become involved and recognized that involvement starts at the grassroots level. Participation in the local labour system was identified as one essential component in empowering women to participate in the public sphere.
A lively debate involving many members of the public followed. Many emphasized that immigrants cannot fight for their rights alone, they need support from other political actors. At the same time immigrant politicians cannot be seen as only addressing immigrants concerns, they should have the same status as any other political representative. While the panellists all insisted that more work needs to be done to enable immigrants to have greater political voice, they also all agreed that political participation is a way to challenge existing stereotypes and an integral part of integration in the city.