Brexit uncertainty harms EU27 citizens in the UK
Emmy van Deurzen is a philosopher and professor of psychology and psychotherapy. Through the Existential Academy Emmy provides emotional support for EU27 citizens affected by Brexit. She is also a human rights campaigner and chair of Voices for Europe, which provides a platform for all pro-European voices (individuals, groups and organisations) in order to enable communication and build a stronger network. You can follow her on Twitter at @emmyzen
Sometimes we realize with a shock that we have lost track of our values and have lost sight of our own standards. We may just have drifted along for a while with the general downward trend in this Brexit country that is ours. We cannot always be alert and on our guard. Most of us believe in freedom, equality, collaboration, peace and decency, but we find ourselves blindly conniving with some things that we may not even know are happening under our very nose and in our name.
It is unsettling to have to apply for settled status
Right now our country is putting three and a half million residents of Britain through their applications for ‘settled status’. For many of them this is an extremely unsettling experience. All these people are having to apply to remain in their country of residence, the place where they have chosen to create their homes and their families. This is no mere registration: it is an application and it can be refused. Having to apply to remain in the place you call your own is a very unhappy experience.
The very fact of having to do this, submitting yourself to this kind of process of scrutiny is deeply unfair and clearly unwarranted. Imagine how you would feel if suddenly everyone who had been born in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds or Birmingham had to apply to be allowed to continue living in London.
Settled status means a loss of rights
The settled status obtained at the end of this process doesn’t solve the problem of exclusivity either, for it leads to a loss of rights. EU27 citizens used to be able to vote in local and European elections but will no longer be able to do so. Having made Britain their base, where they work, live and play, they can no longer take it for granted that this will always continue to be the case. If they go away for more than five years, they lose their right to return. That is a significant loss of freedom. And if they acquire a criminal record they find themselves in a fix straight away, for the Home Office will have the right to deport them. Those who miss the deadline for registration will also find themselves in an illegal situation, which could have dire consequences.
Brexit uncertainty is leading to distress
It is hardly surprising that many EU27 citizens in the UK have difficulties absorbing the shock of this unfair change of status. They suddenly feel like second class citizens. They rightly feel excluded. They are so worried about their future that many find it hard to sleep deeply or keep their self-confidence. They are so cross about what is being done to them, that some just want to leave the country and many have already done so, or are planning on doing so. They are so sad and upset that their lives are not their own anymore, that they feel their entire identity is in the balance. They feel self-conscious and have had new and unpleasant experiences of people pointing the finger at them, singling them out for scorn. Some have experienced aggression and even violence. They are finding it harder to get jobs, secure mortgages or even find rental properties.
Support is available
At the Existential Academy, we have worked with many EU27 citizens since we set up our emotional support service for Europeans in 2017. This is a free service for those who need some help in finding back their strength and courage again. Many people have found it essential support.
Common themes from the support service
We have been able to note shared trends in those who consult us. People who come to our service usually feel alone and isolated and also often doubtful about themselves, blaming their discomfort not on the society around them that has pushed them out of kilter, but on themselves. They often feel a lot better when they make new connections to other EU27 citizens and can get their pain and frustration off their chest. What works best for them is to get as much information as possible about what they can do to put themselves in a better position. And their mood lifts significantly when they start taking an active role in the political battles as well. They need a renewed sense of direction.
They weren’t given a voice in the referendum and many were stopped from voting in the EU elections as well. They share this fate with Brits who live in Europe. It is a very undemocratic state of affairs that we must remedy. Their voices need to be heard and their predicament needs to be alleviated in every way we can.
If you are finding that Brexit uncertainty is getting you down there are many organisations that will provide help. The Existential Academy provides an emotional support service with trained psychotherapists for EU27 citizens in the UK. Your GP will be able to help and also assist you in accessing specialist NHS services. You can contact the Samaritans by telephone or e-mail.
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