beCause Associate Peter Cook comments on and interviews Elena Remigi, author of In Limbo – Brexit testimonies from EU citzens in the UK, with 144 unique stories. Amazon excerpt “Imagine you left your native country because you wanted to explore your neighbouring world and embrace the European dream. Imagine you truly believed that the European Union was your home and that, as well as being a citizen of the country you were born in, you were also a citizen of Europe. Imagine you fell deeply in love with your new country. Imagine you built a life there, married, had children, a career, started a business… You felt happy and totally integrated. You were at home.
“Then one day, your new country decides to vote to leave the European Union, which means that all the rules you have built your life on are going to change. One morning, after years and even decades, you suddenly feel unwelcome, unwanted, betrayed. Your certainties, your life and your security are gone. Your sense of identity too. Through no fault of your own, you are stuck in a painful limbo. This is what has happened since the Brexit Referendum in June 2016 to EU citizens who made their life in the UK. These testimonies are their voices, their stories from Limbo, haunted by the poignant question: where is home?”
Peter Cook: Their stories have been compiled into a wonderful book by Elena Remigi, with the help of Véronique Martin and Tim Sykes, In Limbo – Brexit testimonies from EU citizens in the UK. This is the world we inhabit in our so-called Great Britain at the moment. I was touched personally by the stories of EU citizens who face continued uncertainty over their future if we decide to leave the European Union. It tells the human tales of the ground floor impact of our heartless strategies to use our EU citizens as human shields.
Heartbreaking insights from people who have been so badly let down by our so-called Government that works for all. I feel ashamed to be called British in the knowledge that our European friends are being used as in this way just to prop up an internal political party squabble. This trend is not just one happening in Europe. Trump’s America seems also to be copying the design, with disastrous consequences.
A new wave of autocratic leadership is sweeping the world. Populism, Brexit, Trump are all characterised by single issues and the kind of didactic leadership that was more popular around 100 years ago. The “losers” in this battle of ideologies seem to be diversity, tolerance, respect and the view that we are all stakeholders on planet earth.
I have been fighting against the effects of the UK’s decision to retreat from the rest of the world through our Brexit referendum. Brexit was informed by racism and xenophobia and the politics of hate. It has unleashed a wave of intolerance in our once United Kingdom, which I experienced first hand by being punched by someone who refused to talk about our differences.
But I simply cannot allow our “race to the bottom” after so many years of progress in our attempts to build an inclusive world that can sustain itself. However, my story turns to a group of people who have been more damaged by our Brexit referendum and the coalition of chaos that has ensued … I interviewed Elena to find out more about her book and the stories behind it.
What is your own experience of being In Limbo?
My personal experience of being in limbo has been both a bureaucratic as well as psychological one. In the first case, my husband and I had to fill in the then-much-dreaded 85-page form to obtain Permanent Residency as a family, and fortunately my husband was able to sponsor me. Had I been married to a UK national, this would not have been possible as the UK immigration law is much more restrictive towards spouses who do not have five years of consecutive full-time employment. The amount of documents requested was phenomenal but after 4 months we received our Permanent Residency card, which is a pre-requisite to obtain citizenship.
I went through all the exams needed to obtain naturalisation, an expensive process, which cost around £1500 per person. Despite having done all that was required, I was turned down by the National Checking Service when I brought all my documents as, being a dependant spouse, I had to prove that I lived here. Owning a house, a car, paying my utility bills, having listed 5 years of flights in and out of this country, was deemed insufficient. I was therefore asked to prove “my existence” here through visits to the doctor, optician, dentist, having to send five years of bank statements (another 5 kg of evidence) to be allowed to naturalise – a Kafkaesque experience.
Aside from this, I have also undergone another kind of limbo: a psychological one, which I found worse than the first. Before the Referendum campaign, I felt completely settled and integrated. Months of hostility towards EU citizens and the deliberate attempt to paint us as people who were exploiting the system, rather than contributing to it, have deeply saddened and worried me for my future, making me doubt my role in this country. No matter how many documents one can obtain, what really matters is to know that you are welcomed and valued in a place.
What prompted you to develop the idea for the book?
After the Referendum, as soon as time was going by, I realised that many EU citizens were posting in various groups about their distress, and that not many people, politicians included, knew much about it. The level of misinformation was astounding. I thought that these testimonies would become a stronger voice if put together, and could become a book to be distributed to politicians, both here and at a European level, as well as amongst ordinary people, to let them know how we truly felt. I opened a Facebook group, and with the help of Véronique Martin, a French academic married to a Brit, as well as a brilliant team of moderators, the group grew very quickly and we collected the testimonies that people shared there. “In Limbo” gathers the stories of 144 EU citizens in the UK, with some Brits included. Thanks to a crowdfunding, thus far we have sent around 500 copies to several UK MPs, MEPs, EU ambassadors, heads of state, academics, journalists, and influencers.
What’s the most heart-breaking story you have heard from EU Citizens caught In Limbo?
There are many stories that I found heart-breaking. I think, for instance, of a young French mother of two who suffers from a serious chronic disease and who cannot afford to lose the French NHS she relies very much upon after Brexit. She therefore has made the decision to sell the house, bring the children to France and leave the husband here to work. I also think of stories of mothers of disabled children or widows who have really moved me to tears, but each story has touched me in a different way. What fate awaits the more vulnerable categories, it is still hard to know.
Watch this touching video.
What have you to say about the morals of holding people to ransom to our Prime Minister?
People are not commodities to be traded; they are not pawns to be used in order to get “a better deal” in a cynical and opportunistic political game. We are human beings whose lives have been turned upside down all of a sudden. Our rights should have been guaranteed from the start, but we were instead deemed “good bargaining capital”. We are now being presented with an offer that is neither serious nor fair because it strips us of various rights, such as that to vote, and it requires that we register whilst the rest of the population is not required to have an ID document.
How has life altered for you personally since June 24, 2016?
I have difficulty remembering how it was like before! I have become very active on Facebook, Twitter and social media in general not only because of this project, but because apathy is no longer an option. I cannot sit idly and wait for things to happen. I was not allowed to vote in this Referendum. Being active has allowed me to have a voice.
What are your hopes for the future of the UK?
I hope that the country rediscovers its tolerant and liberal values, the values that made it a truly great, multicultural and dynamic country, which is at high risk of losing everything for a parochial view of the world. The effects of such a vision could damage it irreparably. My hope is that through these very uncertain times the UK can reflect better on what it means to be part of the European family of nations. I hope it takes heed of what Winston Churchill said in a famous speech in Amsterdam on May 1948:
“We hope to reach again a Europe united but purged of the slavery of ancient, classical times, a Europe in which men will be proud to say, “I am a European”. We hope to see a Europe where men of every country will think as much of being a European as of belonging to their native land, and that without losing any of their love and loyalty of their birthplace. We hope wherever they go in this wide domain, to which we set no limits in the European Continent, they will truly feel “Here I am at home. I am a citizen of this country too.”
In Limbo – Brexit testimonies from EU citizens in the UK is available on Amazon worldwide. For myself I continue the fight to restore some decent ethical standards to our country. In the words of Donald Tusk and John Lennon “you may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one …”