It happened in my first year here, in 2013. I was assaulted on a bus, in what I believe was a racist assault. Amongst other things, a suggestion to fuck off back to my country was made. It’s not a big deal, right? I mean, no one got hurt, apart from my feelings. What did I do wrong to deserve this? Nothing. I might have been just unlucky to run into a group of morons. But this wasn’t an isolated incident that happened to me in the UK. Feeling hatred because of where I come from or what language do I speak, things I cannot change about myself and things that are making me feel hopeless and ashamed of who I am. No person in the world should feel shame for being born in a less economically developed country. How silly is that? And there is nothing worse than feeling ashamed of who we are, based simply on an assumption that there is a race or a nationality better than mine (history clearly teaches us that). Some might say, and some have said, that I’m being a pussy about it. That this simply is a way of life for immigrants in this country. I refuse to listen to them, no matter how minor my incident was, this mustn’t be accepted.
Quoting Robert Winder in his book Bloody foreigners, it’s obvious that many Brits refuse to see a bigger picture, to look at their pasts: “Several million Britons live overseas today and we rarely dispute their right to do so…Emigration is one thing, it strikes us as daring and sprightly. But immigration is something else. It is one of those grim, unsettling words that clangs on our conscience as a duty, an issue, a burden…Yet immigration, more grandly defined or imagined, is not only one of the biggest stories of British life, it is also one of the most resonant, and one of the oldest. Ever since the first Jute, the first Saxon, the first Roman and the first Dane leapt off their boats and planted their feet on British mud, we have been a mongrel nation. Our roots are neither clean nor straight, they are impossibly tangled.” According to data collected by the UK’s independent fact-checking charity Full Fact, 1.3 million people born in the UK live in other EU countries, over 300 000 of them living in Spain. On the other hand, around 6% of the UK’s population was born in the EU, 9% were born outside of the EU.
Britain has had several moments when the public roared about a rising immigration, feared of losing their country to foreigners. There were the Irish, migrants from the Commonwealth, the Polish, Romanians. There seems to be a pattern of moral panic following larger numbers of people coming in. After the Second World War, shortage of workers led Britain to look for a workforce in the Commonwealth nations and invited them to the UK. They weren’t welcome by all and many race riots took place across England, climaxing as the Notting Hill riots of 1958. By 1971, there are over 3 million immigrants in the UK, 676.000 from Ireland. In 1972, Commonwealth immigration was restricted after the public strongly protested it and a new legislation was introduced.
Friday the 24th of June, 2016, 5am. Referendum results are all over the internet. Every second post on my Facebook wall is about Brexit. The night before, I went to bed so sure nothing can go wrong for me. I tend to take things personally, and I took Brexit very personally, which I shouldn’t have, but I can’t help myself sometimes. A big lump was growing in my throat, as I was scrolling down the mobile phone screen, I felt unwanted, disliked, unloved and thrown out on the pavement. You know, it’s one thing when one is facing hatred expressed by an individual, such as my experience from the bus. But now, it was a whole country saying its opinion. And still, I had to go to work that day. I had to travel to Canary Wharf, where I worked in Barclays’ headquarters in one of the coffee shops they have for bankers. Many of whom voted LEAVE and weren’t ashamed to express their joy, even though they knew all the staff were migrants. Then there were those, who stayed up all night, watching how financial markets react, millions of pounds disappearing in one night. They came to us with black circles under their eyes. For another month or two, the situation at work was quite strange, everyone talking about Brexit, us, immigrants, feeling uneasy with our futures uncertain.
The latest statistics published by the Office for National Statistics reveal the effect Britain’s decision to leave the EU had on people. “Figures show that 244.000 more people are coming to the UK than leaving so net migration is adding to the UK population and is at a similar level to early 2014”, said Nicola White, the head of International Migrations Statistics at the Office for National Statistics. “Looking at the underlying numbers we can see that EU net migration has fallen as fewer EU citizens are arriving, especially those coming to look for work in the UK, and the number leaving has risen. It has now returned to the level seen in 2012,” she adds. Non-EU migration is now larger than EU net migration, mainly due to the fall in EU migration. Based on the data by Office for National Statistics, numbers of EU citizens leaving the UK is at the highest recorded level since 2008, at 130.000.
Even though in 2016 the UK has decided to leave the EU, there were times when the UK wasn’t able to enter the EU, even though it wanted to. The EU as we know it today was a result of the Second World War and the following Cold War between west and east. An aim to unite European countries against future conflicts. In 1957, European Economic Community (EEC) was established by Belgium, France, Germany, Italy Netherlands and Luxembourg. A common market was created. Not so long after, the UK applied for a membership, in 1961. Two years after, Charles De Gaulle, the French president, blocked UK’s access to EEC and the same repeats in 1967. De Gaulle resigned in 1969 and three years after, Britain gained membership on the 1st of January 1973, 16 years after the EEC was established. Soon after, the Labour party gained power and decided to negotiate terms of membership for the UK. They held a referendum in 1975, where Britain voted 66% to 34% in favour of staying in the EEC. Much later, in 1992, Maastricht Treaty has established the EU, as we know it today. In 2004, 10 Eastern and Central European countries joined the EU, Romania and Bulgaria joining in 2007. In 2013, after a rise in support for UKIP with its anti-EU politics, David Cameron calls a referendum, like the one 1975. Britain votes 51.9% to 48.1% in favour of leaving and a new government with Theresa May has been established.
Choice of the British citizens to leave the EU must be respected and I’ve grown to be ok with the fact that this is about to happen in a year from now. Taking into account I’ve lived and worked here continuously since 2013, I have nothing to worry about (except maybe how awful it is to not be able to afford my own place). It’s now my choice to decide whether to leave or to stay. In September last year, European Commission expressed its opinions on migration in its State of the Union speech: “Legal migration is an absolute necessity for Europe as an ageing continent. This is why the Commission made proposals to make it easier for skilled migrants to reach Europe with a Blue Card…Europe as a whole has continued to show solidarity. Last year alone, our Member States resettled or granted asylum to over 720,000 refugees – three times as much as the United States, Canada and Australia combined. Europe, contrary to what some say, is not a fortress and must never become one. Europe is and must remain the continent of solidarity where those fleeing persecution can find refuge.”
Britain has moments of moral panic when feeling that it’s being overtaken by other nations, cultures and races and this usually results in public concern, and an act of the government to act upon these concerns. It may be in a form of a referendum. It is what it is and the Leave vote must be respected. Strong feelings after Brexit have now calmed down, pros and cons are emerging nearly every day. Past is truly repeating itself and it could just be a “thing” that the British have, a constant fear of being overflown by foreigners. Looking at this with an open mind, checking the facts and statistics, I can’t help myself, but I still feel sad about what happened to me a few years ago. Especially because I knew I did nothing wrong. Because I knew it was my legal right to reside and work in the UK, as an EU citizen. But in the end, what really happened, nothing. I guess I was lucky enough to no to get into a serious fight. Based on the figures by the Home office, hate crime raised by 41% in July 2017, shortly after the referendum. A Polish national Arek Jóźwik was killed, in what was believed to be a hate crime. A sentence “go back to your country” was repeated way too often to people, who looked foreign. Hate crime offences recorded by the police risen to an unacceptable level. Up by 100% in Dorset (104 offences), 75% in Nottinghamshire (189), 68% in North Yorkshire (64). From July to September 2016, altogether 14,294 hate crime-related incidents were reported to the police in England and Wales. Not considering all the assaults that weren’t reported.
I do feel very fortunate right now, having experienced life in the UK. I’ve been working here for nearly five years now, I became a university student too. I bought a dog here, have fallen in and out of love, got drunk a countless amount of times, have regretted getting drunk the same amount of times. I’ve made friends and I’ve lost friends too. I learned responsibility and work ethics. I can enjoy a sunny day like never before, but I don’t mind the rain either. I do now understand Monthy Python jokes better. I also know that I’ll be moving back to one of the EU’s member states in 2019. So will do many more. And who knows, we could see the UK applying for a membership in the EU once again in the future, but I don’t want to get too cheeky. Thanks, Britain, for not always being very kind to me, it made me strong.