What It Feels Like to Be an Immigrant in the UK After Brexit
More than a week has passed since the outcome of the EU referendum has changed the future of the UK. Ever since that Friday morning when the results came in, nothing seems the same – not for me, nor for my fellow immigrants living here and the Britons themselves. When I heard the news, I wasn't scared about having to leave the UK eventually. I was definitely shocked. But more than anything, I was disappointed.
Unfortunately, it turns out there is something to be scared of, following the assassination of a member of Parliament and an increasing climate of xenophobia. As Polly Toynbee of The Guardian put it fittingly after the tragic events leading up to the referendum: "The mood is ugly, and an MP is dead." The mood might be even worse now, and we can only hope that there will be no more victims.
I came to the UK more than two years ago, as a migrant from one of the European Union member states. London and its citizens welcomed me with open arms, and up until now I have never for one second felt like an immigrant. If anything, having lived in several countries, I've always seen myself as a "citizen of the world" and I have never defined myself or others by their nationality or race. Unfortunately, the term "immigrant" has been negatively charged lately, especially since political campaigns used the term in the run-up to the referendum, and I can't seem to shake the feeling of being a little less welcome in this country that I perceived and valued as being so tolerant, forward-thinking, and open-minded.
It was just this past Tuesday when a woman called LBC's radio show, crying over the xenophobic abuse she has received since the UK voted to leave the EU. The German immigrant claimed that dog excrement had been thrown at her house and that people didn't want to be friends with her anymore. LBC's presenter James O'Brien was quick to assure the caller that these acts were conducted by a small group of people. "A huge majority of people in this country, however people have voted on Thursday, are alongside you," he said. "They are your true neighbors."
I believed O'Brien. Yet later that same Tuesday, a video of a man being verbally assaulted by a group of young men on a tram in Manchester went viral. I am perfectly aware that racism is unfortunately a societal issue in many other countries as well, but it seems like the outcome of the referendum has given these people new confidence, and many more are beginning to show their true colors.
While I have personally never been subject to xenophobia, I realize that I might have been living in a bubble here in London. After all, the British capital is a rare multinational environment that fosters acceptance and diversity. What makes me feel uneasy is the fact that hate crimes have surged here following the referendum. Even if it stopped with the horrendous graffiti spray-painted on the wall of a Polish community center, the motivation and ideology behind these "racially motivated damages" (as London's Metropolitan Police called the incidents) is probably the same as the other incidents of harassment I mentioned above.
However, I refuse to be scared, and I refuse to believe that these acts reflect on any level the values that this country and its citizens stand for. A Facebook post by London's mayor Sadiq Khan gave me hope this week: "Here in London we don't just tolerate our differences, we respect and celebrate them. As Mayor - I have a zero tolerance approach to any attempt to hurt & divide our communities." And across the entire nation, a movement has gone viral on social media, urging Britons to wear safety pins as a sign of solidarity with immigrants. It might not change the world, but this is how I know I love the UK.