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Youths Urged to Register to Vote

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The people of Britain will make their once in a life-time decision: Should they remain within the European Union, or come out of it. This decision would also be taken by the youth of the country. Thus, the urge to the youths to register and vote in this mega referendum. . . . by Imam Qari Asim

EU Vote - Operation Black Vote
Registering to vote for the EU Referendum

As the largest single market in the world, European Union (EU) has brought investment and jobs. The EU has played its role in making Europe more secure, facilitating trade between Europe as well as freedom of movement but more importantly it has protected workers’ rights – paid holiday, improved maternity and paternity leave, limits on working time and a fairer deal for agency and temporary workers. However, even those passionately in favor of staying in accept that reform of the EU is long overdue. Lack of appropriate immigration control has been a challenge for our country for quite some time but we must accept that the UK cannot remain immune from the global increase in mobility, and that certain sectors would collapse without the appropriate level of migrant labour. The anti-immigration voices need to communicate their concerns effectively to public in a comparative context, and not resort to scaremongering disgraceful tactics.

The Remain and Leave campaigns offer two very different visions for the future: one where the UK has access to a single market and shared decision-making in a reformed EU, and one where the nation has greater control over its own laws. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the European Union, this vote is of significance for everyone, particularly for younger people.

Young people have the most at stake in this EU referendum. It is their futures that are on the ballot paper. The decision will have repercussions for many years to come, and will have a huge role in shaping young people’s lives. Although more than a million people have registered to vote since the referendum campaign began, nationally up to four million 18-24 year olds are still not on the electoral register; let alone actually go to the polls.

Given that half of Muslim population is under the age of 25, mosques are supporting the #TurnUp campaign and urging young Muslim to register to vote.  Before the last general election, 186,000 missed the register to vote deadline. The deadline for registration to vote is 7 June.  It only takes a few minutes to register to vote; any one can register to vote via the government website gov.uk/register-to-vote.

Far right groups and some Eastern European leaders may rage and rant against Islam and the “Muslim invasion” but Europe has never been and will never be a land for one nation only. As with the UK, Europe will continue to be a multi-belief and multi-ethnic community, united by shared values and  British Muslims must play a necessary role in this historic vote to decide the future direction of our country and Europe.

Some Mosques and Muslim organisations, like other groups in the country, are supporting either StrongerIn or Brexit campaigns;  others are inviting both sides of the campaign to articulate how joining or leaving the EU will affect the lives of British Muslims. I strongly believe in the right to vote because I believe abstention from voting is essentially indirect voting. Abstaining from selecting an option would potentially leave room for the least preferred option to win.There is no doubt that the repercussions of this historic vote will be felt for many years, so let the result – whichever way it goes – be down to choice, not the byproduct of apathy.

In addition to young people, another group of people less likely to register and vote is ethnic minorities, leaving a considerable political participation gap. In the UK, there are an estimated 4 million members of black and minority ethnic (BME) voters, plus an additional 400,000 from the British Commonwealth who are eligible to vote in the EU referendum, but around 30% are not even registered to vote. A recent Runnymede Trust report reveals that BME communities are ambivalent about benefits of the EU. They are less likely to participate in free movement activities, and some consider Europe in predominately ethnic or racial terms, and therefore do not feel inspired to use their vote.

The national conversation on immigration is also a potential factor alienating some from ethnic minorities to participate in a more comprehensive debate about the EU referendum.

Runnymede Trust study also revealed that BME voters, generally, tended be pro-EU partly due to concerns of nativism in the UK and protection from discrimination afforded by the EU.

Voting patterns in recent elections show that in many cases young people and BME communities are usually less likely  to vote. This may be due disengagement with the political process but it does not follow that these groups of people are disinterested in political issues. The Scottish referendum showed that people are not necessarily apathetic, they just need something they feel is worth turning out to vote for. Scottish referendum in 2014 demonstrated that people respond to politics and/or policies when they say something emotional about the world they live in – their sense of belonging, rootedness, control.

Political leaders on both sides of the campaign need to consider ways to motivate and mobalise people to vote rather than deter them with alarmist scare stories, or even hyperbolic claims as young people and BME communities could decide the EU referendum. The recent London mayoral election campaign has shown us that race-fuelled, distasteful and divisive campaigns are rejected by the voters.

For many young people, including Muslims, the right to travel, work or study elsewhere in Europe, as well a strong economy and security of this country, are important issues that could be directly affected by the referendum result. In the coming weeks, the EU referendum campaign should focus more on addressing the specific concerns of young people, women, BME, small to medium businesses as well as multi-jurisdictional corporate entities so that voters can make an informed decision as to what is best for their families and income streams as well their neighbourhoods and the country.

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