Exactly one year ago Britain had one of the most important votes in it’s history, the Brexit referendum. As the results started to come in, divided reactions portrayed a divided country.
Immediately after the results, we observed a significant rise in hate crime against Eastern European nationals, Polish people in particular. Although there haven’t been any major incidents such as the one in August 2016 when a Polish national was murdered in Essex, we often receive phone calls from people who experienced hate crime, just because they were Eastern European. Thankfully, we haven’t seen another spike in hate crime after the triggering of the article 50, as we expected. Things look like they have settled down a bit, people have gotten used to the idea.
However, we are aware that members from our communities are still experimenting hate crime. We have just finished a pilot project of 6 months – “Eastern European Hate Crime Advocates” a project made in partnership with Home Office and Metropolitan Police – a hate crime helpline dedicated to Polish nationals, and at the moment we are working towards becoming a 3rd party reporting site for hate crime. In the last half a year we conducted a series of events and worked closely with the Police to educate the public on why it’s important to report a hate crime and advise the Police forces how to deal with Eastern Europeans who might report such a crime. Although this project is officially over, we will still continue to raise awareness on this matter and support Eastern European citizens who were victims of hate crime.
As part of our project we conducted a survey in which 175 EE nationals from all walks of life took part. We were interested to see what are the concerns of EE nationals living here regarding Brexit, how many people have experienced hate crime, if people are thinking about living the UK and so on. One year after the referendum and on the day that the UK government have made their first step in protecting the rights of EU citizens living here, we believe that our findings are eloquent on how this last year was for our communities and of things to come.
When asked about what concerns people most after Brexit, our respondents replied that their immigration status is their main issue.
This particular problem has been the matter of intense debates in the last year, in the press and civil society here, and on the continent. As we mentioned before, we welcome the start of the Brexit negotiations and are looking forward to hear more details on the PM’s proposal on EU citizens rights made last evening.
People’s right to work and the state of the economy were also important concerns, and rightly so, as we saw the pound drop considerably in the last year.
In the months immediately after the referendum, we did intensive physical outreach in Polish and Romanian communities trying to find out if people are considering leaving the UK, and we did get a sense of people seriously considering such an important life change, especially in the more established migrant communities. Our survey also signalled that people are considering leaving the UK.
Over 56% of our respondents have been thinking of moving or have decided to move to another EU country or back home. Moreover, people are well aware that this could affect their life in many ways, and there are many uncertainties regarding pensions, NI contributions and so on, if they decide to leave the UK. Hopefully, these aspects will be soon clarified in the negotiations:
Not only that people are considering leaving the UK, but the numbers of people coming here from Eastern Europe is dropping, as we see from the latest Migration Observatory, Oxford University study saying that the number of people moving to Britain from Eastern Europe has fallen by around a third since the Brexit vote, and Migration observatory believes that this may be linked to the strength of the currency and the lack of clarity about long-term rights of residence.
Are these the same reasons that make people already here consider leaving? Perhaps. Our survey also showed that over 80% of our respondents feel anxious about the future or that their lives are worse off or will be worse after Brexit:
Regarding hate crime and the general attitude toward migrants in the UK, almost 70% of our respondents have felt unwelcome or know somebody who has:
Moreover, 51% of our respondents state that they have experienced hate crime at work or in their personal life, or something similar to hate crime, or that they know people who have experienced it.
We fully appreciate that this has been a hard year for everybody, but at the same time we sense a movement forward has been taken with the start of the negotiations.
We feel that the next few months will be crucial for Eastern Europeans in deciding if they stay or go somewhere else. We strongly believe that the business environment and the state of the economy are the most important factors to take into consideration for the working people from Eastern Europe who have decided to make Britain their home.
There is much at stake for EE migrants and their families therefore, us, at the East European Resource Centre are working hard to support Eastern European nationals through Brexit. Our main focus at the moment is immigration support and we do have regular free events for our communities regarding permanent residency and citizenship. If you’d like to support our work, consider donating here. If you have questions about immigration issues or require an immigration advisor, please call us at: 020 8741 1288.