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Europe

Brits across Europe tell their stories in a book

One year ago some 140 stories of EU nationals living in the UK were collected in a book titled “In Limbo”. They expressed the anxiety and a lost sense of home due to the UK’s decision to leave the European Union. Now a sister publication has been released, this time with the stories of British citizens living in the rest of the EU, who are “In Limbo Too”.

The books try to capture the seismic change some 4.5 million people felt with Brexit. Over 3 million EU nationals in the UK and 1.2 million Brits in the EU built their lives across borders on the basis of the right to move freely within Europe. Brexit is changing that, and while most of their current rights have been secured in the negotiations between the UK and the EU, the human side of the story has rarely been considered.

The books’ covers illustrate the situation. The first showed a man alone in a dark forest. The second displays a woman and a child lost in the woods too: a separate family walking in the fog. Both were inspired by some verses of Dante’s Inferno: “Midway upon the journey of life, I found myself in a dark forest, for the straightforward path had been lost…”

Such was the image Elena Remigi, who initiated the project, had in mind. An Italian translator based in England, after the referendum she started collecting stories of EU nationals living in Britain to document what was in her view a “major social change”. A group of volunteers gathered around the Facebook group “In Limbo – Our Brexit Testimonies” to help collect the material, market it on social media, crowdfund and plan its distribution.

The second book was born from the collaboration between the In Limbo team and Brexpats – Hear Our Voice, a group of British residents in Europe. Other groups, including some of the British in Europe coalition (Bremain in Spain, Remain in France Together, British in the Netherlands, British in Romania, British in Portugal, ECREU and Young European Voices), responded to the call. The result is a collective journal with stories and reflections of people worried about the future, and often grappling with issues of identity.

Jane from France, for example, writes about her sadness at the lack of empathy from friends and family in the UK who voted to leave the EU without understanding the consequences for her: “Well you decided to move there,” they said. Elspeth from Spain talks about her fight not to become “a second-class citizen”. Sarah from Romania describes her sudden meltdown in a supermarket at the feelings of “gratitude, confusion, embarrassment at my inability to speak Romanian”. Many testimonies are an expression of concern for children and grandchildren. Among the writers there are people from all walks of life, including British EU officials and MEPs. Some British citizens living in the UK have participated too.

Like the first book, stories are grouped in five chapters, each reflecting a state of mind: isolation, disenfranchisement, concern, anger, and shame.

“The two books complement each other showing the two sides of the same medal. Both show people’s suffering due to the uncertainty, but whilst many EU nationals expressed fear, British living in the EU expressed more anger,” says Elena Remigi. “It’s because the books were written at different times, or because British in Europe do not face the anti-immigration rhetoric and the ‘hostile environment’ that has been built in the UK. Many British also feel shame, and a deep sense of isolation when families voted for Brexit without thinking about them. But let’s not forget that both books also end with a chapter on hope.”

Debbie Williams, founder of Brexpats Hear Our Voice and co-editor of “In Limbo Too”, worked in air traffic control in the Royal Air Force (RAF) and National Air Traffic Services (NATS), before establishing a business with her husband and moving to work in other EU countries. The ongoing uncertainty brought forward their plans to settle in Spain. “I started Brexpats Hear Our Voice when living in Belgium as I could see how this situation was going to have an impact on citizens’ rights, and many of us didn’t even have a say. I could see what people were saying on social media and the reports of an increase in hate crime. I had never done anything like this before and it is through this experience that I have learnt so much about both the EU’s and the UK’s political systems, and on this journey I have met truly inspirational people which has led to the publication of the book,” she says.

She hopes that the books will be read by “every single MP, MEP, civil servant in Brussels and Westminster, embassy staff, national and regional governments”. “The narrative must change,” she says. “You cannot continue to treat human beings in the way that we have seen over the last two years. A lot of damage has been done and healing requires listening to the voices of people who are directly affected.”

The book “In Limbo Too” is self-published on Amazon and groups are crowdfunding for its distribution.

 

Claudia Delpero © all rights reserved.
Image: Covers combined by Alice Harrey, logo of the In Limbo Project by Elena Remigi © all rights reserved.

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Europe

When friends tell me: “You’re not English, just accept it”

I used to be English. It was my identity and I had the right to it. It didn’t have to be more complicated than that.

I was born in London’s St Thomas’ Hospital, right across the river from the Houses of Parliament. On weekends, as a family, we would take the 88 bus to the Tate Britain. I used to climb and sit on the lions at Trafalgar Square. My friends were English, and so was I, but not to them.

As the daughter of two EU citizens, who was born and raised in London, I don’t feel the need to justify why I felt English. Nothing should burden your right to be from where you were born, whether that is the languages you speak at home or the passports you hold.

“Where are you really from?” Unfailingly the question I have been met with every time I have tried to say I am English. Either that or a blatant, “No, you’re not.” As soon as I mention that my dad is Italian and my mum Finnish, I’m immediately met with “Oh… so you’re Italian.” Though there’s no harm in people’s intentions, I always wished they would accept my initial answer as it was. Though it may not be as interesting as the one they had hoped for, it was my truth. After a while of attempted negotiations, their reply was just met with a reluctant nod from my part.

More importantly than small interactions with acquaintances, it hurts me that my closest friends didn’t accept me as English. Whether it was my “Italian accent”, which I don’t have, the lack of a nationality that would cost £1,012 or, at the end of the day, purely the fact that my parents didn’t happen to be born on this particular piece of land, there was always a reason why I didn’t make the cut.

One of my friends once told me, “You should be proud to be Italian.” She didn’t understand that I am proud of my cultures. I love and value being a part of them, but again, why does that cancel out any other identities that I have?

I’m sure my friends admired my multiculturalism, but I don’t think they ever understood that all I really wanted was to be accepted into the society I was born in as one of their own. As a local.

I started to wish away opportunities and experiences I was blessed to have, all to be accepted as what I was. I avoided speaking Italian or Finnish in public, tried to minimize that part of me as much as possible, but knew it would do nothing other than make me more miserable. I was tired of having to fight for something that for most people was a given. I was tired of having to try to convince people on things they didn’t have the right to doubt in the first place. I started to associate my identity with pain and hurt, and it wasn’t worth it anymore.

The shift in my identity came as a relief, but it also felt like a betrayal from my own part. Years of efforts had resulted in nothing but my own mind changing.

The Brexit referendum results struck a chord with me, no matter how much I didn’t want it to. Whether because of the rise in xenophobia and hate crime or for another reason entirely, all of a sudden, there was nothing I wanted less than to be English.

I’ve felt like I’m from nowhere, I’ve felt like I’m from everywhere. I’ve weighed out my identities into fractions, percentages and decimals pertaining to different countries, but identity cannot be measured or confined to a number.

Though I have resolved to maintain a certain fluidity, I am now Finnish and Italian, but I’m most of all from London. In a city this multicultural, though some may not understand much about it, you don’t have to be English to be a Londoner.

 

Venla Deluca © all rights reserved.
Venla Deluca is a 14-year-old student. Her article is published here with parental consent. Photo via Pixabay.

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Europe

How Germany excludes some EU citizens from healthcare

The German section of Médecins du Monde/Doctors of the World is offering free healthcare and counseling for people with restricted or no access to the healthcare system in Hamburg, Berlin, Stuttgart and Munich. In the past few years, EU citizens – mainly Romanians and Bulgarians – have become the largest group of beneficiaries. Of the 786 new patients in our clinics in Hamburg, Munich and Berlin in 2017, 56.7% were non-German EU citizens.

4.7 million citizens from other EU countries lived in Germany in 2017. While the majority have health insurance through the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), through a regular job or a working family member, EU nationals from new EU member states (which are not members of the European Convention on Social and Medical Assistance) face major difficulties in accessing healthcare if they do not have regular employment.

A law passed in December 2016 has worsened the situation of several groups of EU citizens. The law excludes unemployed EU nationals from social protection services, including basic healthcare coverage, if they have not been regular residents of Germany for at least five years, if they have no right of residence under EU rules or if their right of residence results solely from the purpose of finding work or from having children in education in Germany (Article 10 of the EU Regulation on the freedom of movement for workers).

For these groups, only so-called ‘bridging benefits’ are provided for a maximum of one month and only once within two years. These benefits include basic health services required for the treatment of acute illnesses and pain. After receiving these reduced benefits for one month, the affected groups have no entitlement to the coverage of any, even emergency, healthcare services for the next 23 months, if they remain unemployed.

The experience of Doctors of the World shows that people stay in Germany, as the situation in the countries of origin is often even worse, but avoid going to the doctor when they are sick. As hospitals are not reimbursed, they are hesitant to treat them. Clinics set up by civil society are therefore the only place where they receive healthcare.

Beyond access to healthcare, the law dangerously impedes the living conditions of many EU citizens, because these groups are also not entitled to benefits, homeless shelters, or other social welfare services.

The exclusion from social services, including healthcare, has led to many critical reactions. In reply to a letter signed by 37 civil society and welfare organisations, the Ministry of Work and Social Affairs said that it considers the health coverage of affected EU citizens sufficient, because in individual cases and in special circumstances healthcare can be covered. Individual case decisions are, however, lengthy and there are no clear criteria on what is covered. In any case, they do not imply an entitlement.

The right to access healthcare is part of the UN international Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Based on the Covenant, it is the duty of the state to ensure non-discriminatory access to healthcare. Thus, under the coordination of Doctors of the World, civil society groups made a submission to the UN Commission on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) on the right to health. The UN Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights sees access to healthcare as a main responsibility of the state.

A report published last year by Doctors of the World shows that many EU citizens fall through the cracks and struggle to access healthcare in Europe. Of the over 43,000 people we helped across 13 European countries in 2016, 3,257 were nationals of the European Union or the European Economic Area (EEA) living in another country (7.5%). The majority of them were living below the poverty threshold, were unemployed or homeless, or in conditions of social isolation.

While Doctors of the World is providing healthcare for those left without support, this important task cannot and should not lie with voluntary civil society organisations. The principle of free movement and residence of EU citizens should be extended to a right to health. The EU needs a legal framework that ensures access to healthcare for all EU/EEA citizens irrespective of their resident or social security status.

 

Johanna Offe, Doctors of the World Germany

Doctors of the World is an international human rights organization providing emergency and long-term medical care to vulnerable people, wherever they are.

Photo courtesy Doctors of the World Germany.