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Friday, 14 October 2016 09:00

Citizens of Everywhere and Nowhere: Migrants in the UK

Written by
amber rudd
Photo: Department of Energy and Climate Change (flickr); Licence: CC BY-ND 2.0 - Amber Rudd, Home Secretary of the United Kingdom

Having been an EU migrant in the UK for almost the majority of my life, Britain’s Brexit aftermath never ceases to torment me. Since the UK voted to leave the European Union on the 23rd of June, it has been dominating European headlines, with more and more controversial content. The unexpected outcome of the Brexit referendum shocked people across Europe and the globe, despite exit polls having already pointed to this result – nobody wanted to believe the turn that the UK was about to take. With cries and promises for curbs on immigration by Home Secretary Amber Rudd and Prime Minister Theresa May, my anxiety for the future in a country I was so used to calling my second home has been growing. The truth is, we can discuss the growing xenophobic, racist comments permeating the Conservatives’ rhetoric for days, but what does this all actually mean for migrants in the UK?

The scene was almost too cliché, straight out of a science fiction novel - Rudd’s stern look and terrifying speech with the slogan “a country for everyone” in the background. Migration was Rudd’s key theme in her speech on Wednesday whereby she suggested that British companies should focus on giving jobs locally, and make lists of their foreign workers public – to then consequentially shame said companies for having dared to hire workers from overseas. This will then be complemented with a £140 million “controlling migration fund” that Rudd asserts will help areas most ‘affected’ by immigration. On top of this, to deter overseas students, two-tier visa rules will be introduced depending on the quality of university or institution -  because, you know, with soaring fees British universities weren’t already sufficiently inaccessible. Alongside this, May’s charming speech topped it all off when she claimed that if you claim to be a citizen of the world, then you are a citizen of nowhere. Yes, this country really is for everyone after all.

Needless to say, this could have a devastating impact not only on many asylum-seekers, economic migrants and young people striving to reach the UK, but what about those that were already there? My love affair with the UK began at the ripe age of 10. During a visit to my grandparents in Tuscany, a wild storm blew a British flag into our back garden, I had this feeling that I knew I wanted to move there. Having lived in London collectively for 7 years of my life, I always felt welcome and at home – I realise, however, that mine is a very privileged situation that not all migrants in the UK have the luxury of experiencing. Some of my closest friends are British, I attended school and university there, and really envisaged my future in London, the city I had so helplessly fallen in love with. I am however sure that I am not alone in saying that this dangerous rhetoric, along with tarnishing the UK’s multicultural and welcoming reputation, is doing an excellent job in alienating the approximate 3.2 million EU migrants (which by the way is a mere 5% of the UK’s population) who had found a home in the UK. With increasing number of attacks on immigrants, such as the tragic death of Arkadiusz Jóźwik killed by six teenagers in Essex, the claim that the Conservative government is turning the UK into a country for everyone is becoming more and more obsolete. I am of course not stating that everyone in the UK stands behind this xenophobic trend, if anything the opposite. The famous 48% that voted to remain in the EU are adamantly campaigning to keep the UK as diverse and welcoming as possible, given Europe’s current political climate.

I proudly stand by my world citizenship – I gladly call myself a citizen of everywhere and nowhere

The question remains: what will happen to migrants in the UK? Rudd said it herself, she was just making suggestions and talking about immigration. So the very unsatisfactory answer is: we don’t know what will happen until legislation like these that have been promised are put through. One thing, however, is for sure, the normalization of this racist and xenophobic discourse is not promising, not only for migrants but for British nationals whose government is sealing off from the rest of the world.

This is of course, a problem not limited to the UK, the rise of far right nationalist movements attacking migrant communities and refugees is expanding throughout Europe with Alternative für Deutschland in Germany, Front National in France, Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs in Austria and Partij voor de Vrijheid in the Netherlands, to name just a few. All these parties propagate a notion that immigration is a threat to their notion of nationhood, which according to them is the bringer of stability, by scapegoating any problem their nation encounters to what they perceive as foreign.  These politicians have to stop talking about tackling immigration, helping those affected by immigration and solving the immigration crisis – immigration is NOT a disease. The terrorist threat that leaders so keenly pin on immigration is far more likely to arise on their doorstep, with alienated youths that don’t fit this homogenous idea of nationhood they are so vehemently trying to shove down everyone’s throats.

The exchange of cultures, made so easy within the EU through Erasmus programmes and the Shengen zone, allows us to open our minds and explore the world. I had the luck of growing up in Germany, Italy, the UK and currently based in Belgium and have never managed to really fit in one conventional nationality. Also here at E&M, the transnational aspect of our work really strives to show that we, in Europe, and in the world, are all interconnected, and that with such a degree of nationalism comes a great sense of exclusivity. And so with that I proudly stand by my world citizenship – I gladly call myself a citizen of everywhere and nowhere.

Last modified on Saturday, 15 October 2016 09:04
Nicoletta Enria

Nicoletta Enria is Italian, originally from La Spezia, grew up in Rome, London and Frankfurt. She graduated from University College London, studying Language and Cullture and now works as Project Assistant and Social Media Assistant at the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO). Follow her on twitter: @NicolettaEnria or her blog.

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