Brexit Forecast: EU Citizens At Risk
Last week in the UK we marked the 75th anniversary of D-Day – when Caribbean pilots and Polish soldiers fought alongside the British army to protect the shared values of human rights, democracy and inclusivity. While the war was on, Jamaicans and other soldiers from British colonies responded to Britain’s frequent requests for help. Like their fellow Polish fighters they regarded Britain as their homeland, only to find that after 1945, people would start to ask them, “When are you going home?”
75 years later, EU citizens who have lived in the UK for a long time are being asked the very same question. Currently, EU citizens risk being trapped in the same hostile environment that has been created over decades to prevent non-EU immigrants from making Britain their home. The Windrush scandal has shown how some BAME communities can easily be denied access to equal jobs and accommodation, and even deported to countries they only vaguely remember.
A system designed to make immigrants feel unwelcome has turned into a Kafkaesque bureaucracy, driven by the underlying mistrust in those who are deemed not to belong. Brexit has now forced EU citizens to join the ranks of those who need to prove that they belong; the new settlement scheme is asking them to apply and not just register. This scheme is forcing 3.6 million people through a new, digital keyhole so they can stay in their homes, access healthcare, and keep their jobs.
The Home Office has promised it has learnt from the Windrush mistakes and assured us that nobody will get deported, that most people will simply sail through the application process. This pride in the mechanics of the new status glosses over two key issues: firstly, the immense hurt this is causing people who felt they were at home in the UK and, secondly, on an existential level, not getting this status means you become illegal and unable to access healthcare, benefits, bank accounts.
Many EU citizens who believed the repeated messages of “nothing will change for EU citizens” might not be aware of this the brand new system that they must go through i.e. children in care, the elderly, students and those simply unable to cope with a digital-only application. Researchers from the Oxford Migration Observatory warn that hundreds of thousands of people might not apply for the new status, which would have disastrous consequences.
If we want to fight populists and strengthen democracy in the UK all of us need to fight the underlying assumptions that led to the hostile environment: that immigrants are different, that they do not belong here, that they are not “one of us”, that they are somehow up to no good.
Neither do people who have made the UK their home for decades want to be told “we welcome you,” this implies that we’ve only just arrived. We have seen this perception recently when EU citizens were turned away from local polling stations with the advice “go and vote in your home country.”
What we and all the other migrants at home in the UK need is legal protection that doesn’t allow for any tinkering with our rights without public scrutiny, democratic representation and a fair and affordable path to citizenship.
This is a key moment for all of us: we must stand up for immigrants and navigate thoughtfully through our differences. Britain needs a new humanity and a Prime Minister truly committed to defending the most vulnerable while giving all of us access to decent housing, pay and healthcare.
You can read the3million’s open letter to the future Prime Minister here.
By Maike Bohn, Co-founder of the3million.