Three million citizens of other European Union countries live in the UK. Many never sought British citizenship because they never imagined Brexit would happen. Now that it is happening, how do they feel about a general election dominated by Brexit, in which they cannot vote?
‘I desperately wish I could vote’
Romanian citizen Raluca Enescu, 27, lives in south London
On Facebook, people were talking about the election. I said: “I’m an immigrant, I have no right to vote. If there are any people who are too disgusted to vote, please vote for me.” So I now have a guy in Manchester who will vote on my behalf.
A lot of people are complaining immigrants are not integrated into society. But political participation is part of being integrated, isn’t it?
It does mean a lot for me that I’m disqualified from voting. I have no idea how my status in the UK will change as a result of the referendum. I’m one of those people who is facing uncertainty about whether I will be able to secure permanent residency or not.
I came here as a Masters student about five years ago. I think I chose the university rather than London – the London School of Economics had the best programme in my field. But I settled in right away. I met my friends, my boyfriend, and I work in public health policy.
Now, I don’t have the same sense of loyalty to this country that I used to have. If I hadn’t met my boyfriend I might have already moved somewhere else. London feels very sympathetic, but smaller, monocultural towns are not safe places to be immigrants.
EU migrants didn’t vote in the referendum either. I feel like this whole situation has happened because of how disenfranchised immigrants are. The person who has been given the biggest voice and listened to the most is the small-town working-class person who doesn’t like immigration.
I remember feeling angry when Russell Brand was saying: “I can’t be bothered voting.” As someone who couldn’t vote, I desperately wished I could.
‘I feel like a second-class citizen’
Polish-born Michal Siewniak, 37, lives in Watford, Hertfordshire
I remember well, as a child growing up during communism, when my parents were not able to freely cast their vote. I was 10 when the Berlin Wall collapsed. I remember my parents then being able to express their views in the democratic process.
So for me, not being able to vote is like going back 20 years.
I was proud to vote in the council elections. I must admit that I love doing it. But I won’t be able to vote in the general election. As a local activist and former councillor, I now wonder, will I be able to vote again, or stand in the local elections, when the UK leaves the EU?
Voting, standing in any elections – local or national – is such an important part of being a fully integrated part of any society. So I do feel like a second-class citizen. I’m seen as a burden and my contribution is not recognised.
I’ve been here 12 years. I have a life here. My kids, aged 11, eight and two, go to school here. Working in the charity sector, I do my best to help others to integrate.
We know that we are leaving the EU. The fact that we are leaving gives me and my family uncertainty. I am worried that many EU citizens, who come here for good reasons, will face discrimination in all walks of life just because of where we come from and irrespective of what we bring.
There was a lot of hate crime last year. People felt ignored and expressed their frustration in an unpleasant way. A friend of mine opened a Polish restaurant and it was vandalised.
I know people are concerned about immigration. I read in the newspaper the other day that in Boston the number of migrants was up 460% and that has changed the local community. I’m not surprised people are upset.
But migrants are here to work. If British people don’t want to do fruit-picking jobs, who’s going to do them? They aren’t coming here because they want to take jobs away from British people. There’s a demand.
I want to have a platform to raise my concerns. I also hope that the prime minister will recognise that many EU nationals in the UK are keen not only to work in Britain, but also to shape the future of this country by being part of the political process.
‘British people’s opinions should be prioritised’
Mirjam Kaerma, 22, originally from Estonia, is a music technology student in Cardiff
In some ways I can understand why British people want to leave. The EU used to be all about free movement of goods, services and people – these are positive things. But the EU has become more and more controlling. You can’t elect commissioners so they are untouchable. If I look at it from my own country’s perspective, I see how laws are forced on Estonia. So I think the UK should try to negotiate a better deal – for example, follow a similar path to Norway, staying a member of the single market.
I think most British people are tolerant and are OK with immigrants who offer some sort of value to the system. Talent is always valued and with British people it’s always easy to make friends.
What annoys people is immigrants who are disrespectful towards their country’s culture, laws and customs. I think if you don’t like these then you should go back to your home country or move on to somewhere else.
I moved here in 2014 to study and experience the UK’s culture. As an international EU student I am not eligible for a student loan for living costs. Nevertheless, I am able to support myself by working in a hotel as a waitress and giving piano lessons because free movement includes the right to work. Also, last summer I set up a business with my two sisters and my brother, making healthy refreshment drinks based on birch sap.
At the moment, the business is based in Estonia and our idea is to bring it to the UK.
However, Brexit really makes us think twice. How would we be able to sustain the business if Brexit happens without a deal? It might be hard for us.
It’s quite frustrating not being able to vote, especially if you like being here and you are helping the economy to grow.
Of course, British people’s opinions should be prioritised as this is their home, after all. Maybe there should be a separate vote for British people at the general election and another for the EU citizens who live here. I think it’s very important their opinions are heard – as well as those of British people who live in EU countries, what about their opinions?
‘I haven’t come here to steal someone else’s job’
Italian Maria Iacuzio, 45, Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey
I had a good job back in Italy but I left it for love.
I studied at Reading University, then I went back to work in Florence and Milan. But I kept in touch with John, who would later become my husband.
We had a long talk. Because my English is good and my husband’s Italian is not we moved here. I have been here 19 years.
It wasn’t easy – I have all my family there. If I had known that England would come out of the EU maybe me and my husband would have made a different decision. We feel betrayed.
After 19 years I’ve not got the right to vote. It’s very frustrating.
So I talk to people. It’s the only thing that’s in my power. I try to make the British people aware of what it’s like for us, because they are not aware. They don’t know how hard it is just to put all the documents together for the permanent residency card.
My children are worrying about what will happen to me. They are bilingual, aged 10 and nine. They understand what’s going on, especially after the referendum. They ask: “Mummy, are you going back to Italy?” They go to a Catholic school, there are a lot of Polish parents there. Lots of children there are worried about their parents too.
I haven’t come here to steal someone else’s job. I teach Italian. Who’s going to do my job better than me?
There’s many English people who feel frustrated and want to come out of the EU. You can want to come out but why are you trying to affect people that have been here and have been producing for the country? We haven’t done anything wrong. We have just followed the rules of the country.
‘I live in fear of what’s in store for me’
Finnish Ari Luukkonen, 50, lives in Manchester
I have been with my British boyfriend for 12 years. He suffers from a terminal illness called COPD and I am his carer.
I’m doing the job of three nurses who would have to look after my partner 24 hours a day if I left. I’m doing that job for 62 a week.
Before I became a carer I worked hard in this country and paid my taxes. I’ve been living here for 16 years.
I’m quite an outgoing person, but recently I have stopped talking to strangers in the pub because my accent always gives me away and people ask where I’m from.
I get weird looks and occasionally a comment like: “Why don’t you just go back to your own country?”
At the moment I live in fear of what’s in store for me in the future – deportation perhaps, because the government isn’t telling us what their plans are concerning EU immigrants. Furthermore, I feel more vulnerable because of the fact that I am only a carer.
I, like the other three million EU immigrants, didn’t have a vote in the referendum. I can vote in local elections but not in national elections. It’s frustrating because I can’t get my voice heard. I’ve been living here for 16 years and I still can’t do anything.
The only thing I can do is be more vocal on social media. I can get other friends to see my point of view.
I’m applying for permanent residency. It’s really, really difficult because I don’t know what’s going to happen to me. And I still need to look after my partner. What’s going to happen to him?
As told to Jon Kelly
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