How are the lives of EU citizens in Cardiff affected by Brexit?

After Brexit three million European immigrants are trying to secure their status in the UK. How challenging is it to secure British citizenship?

A volunteer hands out the badges that aim for Re-EUnite.

The last five years since the Brexit vote have been challenging for Emmy. Originally from Holland, she arrived in the UK 30 years ago and has never worried about her status in the country, until she overheard her partner’s family talking about immigrants.

“Even in my own family there are a number of people who have said ‘I can’t wait for all the Europeans to leave’,” said Emmy. She holds dual citizenship, both Dutch and British at the same time. And then when she says ‘sorry, I’m European too’ her family instantly retract by saying, “Oh, I don’t mean you!” This makes her uncomfortable. 

“The fact that you have to apply for settlement it means you can stay if you’re lucky, so people won’t necessary leave anyway,” Emmy is now having to think hard about her status, like three million other Europeans in the UK.

“I was extremely lucky that I can afford and the government and rules allowed to get the citizenship,” she submitted the application at the date of the referendum, this applies cost her over 1500 pounds. “I could have applied it before, but for a long time, I resisted it.

“Because the only advantage it would give me is that I can vote in a UK election. What do I want to pay 1500 pounds or 2000 pounds just for the last election? I would never be proud to be a Britain, but I have to associate with that kind of cheating people nasty.”

She feels that it is unfair to pay such an amount of money for the rights that they should have had. A family with parents and two kids they may have to pay 8000 pounds for this, such money could be a huge burden to many families.

“Although for some people the requirements of the government are quite straightforward, for someone who is self-employed or has faced domestic violence, or has been exploited for various purposes, then it will be far more difficult.” 

Emmy who works as a migration partnership officer hopes that the Government makes the British citizenship application easy.

Besides, discrimination could be another problem for European immigrants like Emmy. One of her friends who was born in the Netherland as well and move to the UK at a young age has sold her house and left the UK recently. Her neighbors knocked on her door and asked rudely “When will you get out of the UK?” after her husband died less than a week.

She felt appalling as they have been live together for tens of years.

Susanne king who is from Germany was treated badly as well. Some people throw a stone to her window firstly, and this kind of thing never stops. Someday, there are even anti-European shouts at her “All the Germens should die!”

She is very angry about this hostile environment but helpless. Her eight-year-old daughter Lilith may also face being forced to go to an unknown German school and say goodbye to all her besties here. “I can never be happy again!” said Lilith.

Susanne said that she is possible to take her daughter Lilith back to Germany next July.

Except for money and dignity, there are some other problems as well. Wrard Sterk who is working for an organization called ‘Settled’ helps people with difficulties to apply for citizenship. He is also in charge of writing website content and translating it into different languages.

“It’s important for people to read in their own language to understand it properly. Because it’s an important decision that people could make for a better life,” said Wrard. 

He pointed out that the form of application is not friendly to a large proportion of people. The people who face most obstacles are the ones that are supported by others because their names are not on the bill. Those who have an abusive partner or cannot understand the language properly or do not have access to a computer or a smartphone also face problems.

According to Wrard Sterk, a lot of older people think they are already abandoned so they believe the application process is not for them. For example, some people who are suffering from dementia are neither capable of understanding, nor capable of giving permission to somebody else.

“We are talking about a large number, but we don’t know how many at all.  So even it’s 10% it of a thousand people ,that’s a large number of people cannot understand or can’t make their application. There are risks for them to be illegal, so we are trying to help them to tackle it,” said Wrard.

Wrard Sterk worries about the living status of many EU immigrants.

Wrard Sterk himself is a European immigrant. He has been living in the UK for over 20 years. If he cannot get citizenship as required, he may have to be apart from his British wife and his entire family.

He thinks that even if he could get an identity in the UK, he may be watched by the government in some way. As the certification is a digital one instead of a physical one, if he needs to travel or rent a house, he will be asked to show it. He has to fill a form online and clarify the reason before he downloads his identity card. He believes it is a kind of monitoring, no one is willing to accept that.

This serious problem calls for Government attention. Huw Thomas, the leader of Cardiff Council says that Cardiff city council always welcomes all the nationals who face difficulties to complete the application online. “As I know many nationals in this city, in this country, are not able to work, to live, to grow a family, it is a terrible thing for us and this country. If you want Cardiff to be your home, we are accountable to do everything we can,” he said.

Even though some European immigrants are treated badly by a few people of anti-European sentiment, not all British residents are hostile to them. “I was brought up to believe you do things for others and you don’t just think of yourself. I see the hurt and harm that’s been done. I cannot sit around and do nothing for them,” said Jeon Quarlely, a Cardiff resident. “Wales, Britain is a part of Europe. I live in a democracy so it’s my right to oppose this decision, fight and change.”

Many social organizations are paying attention to this group of vulnerable people and trying to find a way to help them. Emmy believes that if the government simplifies the application process or just change it to a registration form, the cost will be reduced and it will be friendly to thousands of EU citizens.

If you are an EU citizen and are willing to stay longer in Cardiff, check more information at: