Refugee ful­fills life dream

Central Leader - - FRONT PAGE - JAMES PASLEY

A 48-year-old for­mer Sri Lankan refugee will vote for the first time this week­end.

On Satur­day Sasikala Niya­math­ul­lah, who is a project man­ager at Auck­land Re­gional Mi­grant Ser­vices, will vote in the New Zealand gen­eral elec­tion.

Af­ter flee­ing Sri Lanka with her fam­ily when she was eight years old Niya­math­ul­lah lived in In­dia - the world’s largest democ­racy - for more than 25 years.

But she was un­able to vote there be­cause of her refugee sta­tus.

When she ar­rived in Auck­land with her fam­ily in late 2013 she missed the cut for the 2014 gen­eral elec­tion, be­cause to be el­i­gi­ble to vote she needed to have lived in New Zealand for at least a year.

Since Niya­math­ul­lah was old enough to vote she wanted to, and it baf­fled her watch­ing oth­ers in In­dia ig­nore their right to vote, she said.

‘‘Those peo­ple were wast­ing their votes, while I had no choice. Vot­ing for me is a ba­sic right, one of the most im­por­tant,’’ she said.

She felt em­pow­ered to be able to vote in the coun­try where the first woman ever voted, she said.

Tues­day marked the 124th an­niver­sary since New Zealand be­came the first na­tion in the world to grant women the right to vote.

It was re­fresh­ing that ev­ery­one chose who they wanted to vote for, com­pared to In­dia where the women were of­ten ex­pected to vote for what­ever party their hus­band’s fam­ily sup­ported, she said.

Vic­to­ria Univer­sity po­lit­i­cal lec­turer Kate McMil­lan worked on a study of im­mi­grant elec­toral par­tic­i­pa­tion in New Zealand.

The big­gest bar­ri­ers to vot­ing for im­mi­grants, in­clud­ing refugees, was get­ting enough in­for­ma­tion about par­ties and poli­cies in their own lan­guages and feel­ing suf­fi­ciently in­formed about the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem, she said.

Also, hav­ing enough time to fo­cus on pol­i­tics rather than just get­ting a job, a house and sort­ing out kids’ school­ing was an is­sue, McMil­lan said.

‘‘There’s also a lot of ev­i­dence that vot­ing is tied to a sense of be­long­ing in a coun­try, so those who don’t feel a sense of be­long­ing of­ten don’t vote,’’ she said.

But Niya­math­ul­lah said the pol­icy fo­cus of New Zealand pol­i­tics was re­fresh­ing and she was in­vested in vot­ing for the party which would pro­vide the best Prime Min­is­ter.

JAMES PASLEY/STUFF

On Satur­day Sasikala Niya­math­ul­lah will cast her first ever vote, af­ter 30 years of be­ing un­able to.

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