Fear, uncertainty over the future, feeling unwanted – those are all emotions which must be a constant experience for refugees who have had to flee their homes because of war, unrest or persecution. They are not emotions I thought I would experience myself. But since the EU referendum last year, they have been with me too.
I have lived in the UK for 35 years: I studied here, am working here, have my family, friends and my home here. When I first came to study, I needed a residence card; later there was no need to have one any more, as we were all part of the EU.
Now, since the Referendum, there is major uncertainty over the future of EU citizens in the UK. Recently in Parliament MPs overwhelmingly voted against an amendment that would guarantee the rights of EU citizens here. We are bargaining chips in the negotiations between Theresa May’s government and the EU.
I have started the process of applying for a ‘document certifying permanent residence’ – it’s something I became entitled to many years ago, after five years of living here. But to obtain the document, I have to fill in an 85-page form and provide several kilogrammes of ‘evidence’: bank statements, invoices, utility bills, business accounts, marriage certificate, divorce certificate and many more. Literally, hundreds of sheets of paper – all originals – to be sent to the Home Office where they will sit for several months to be processed. I spent three days over Christmas compiling this information and I’m still not finished.
Chances are that sooner or later a decision will be made that will give the 3 million EU citizens who live in the UK the right to stay in this country. But until then, that fear and uncertainty will stay with me.
On Monday 20 February I went to London for a mass lobby of Parliament. It was organised as part of ‘One Day Without Us’, a national day of action to highlight the contribution migrants make to UK society. Some 2,000 EU citizens registered for the lobby. We heard speeches from politicians, trade unionist and campaigners. We queued to go into the Houses of Parliament for more speeches – from MPs Keir Starmer, Diane Abbott, Tom Brake; from Dick Newby, the Lib Dem spokesperson in the Lords.
We were encouraged to hear that there is work going on in the Lords to push through an amendment to the European Notification Bill that seeks to guarantee EU citizens’ rights. But fearful that even if the Lords succeed and send back an amendment to Parliament, the Tories will once again close ranks and vote against.
I was supposed to see my MP, Peter Kyle, but unfortunately he had to leave before the many speeches finished and I didn’t get to speak to him. But I know he has stood strong against Article 50 and has been supporting crucial amendments to the Bill. So I hope he will continue to fight on our behalf.
I know I am lucky. I have a home; I have a job; I have family and friends. My future will undoubtedly be secure here. So my situation is nothing like that of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have been displaced from their homes. But I have a sense of the precariousness of life – and how quickly it can be turned upside down by external events. That there really is no ‘us and them’.
The only hope, I feel, is for people to come together and unite. To support each other emotionally and practically. And to carry on fighting for the rights of refugees and migrants where we can.