Last week, I wrote about ‘Retaining European Citizenship‘ – an initiative focused on helping British citizens retain some of of their EU rights after Brexit. At the event I attended for this project, the other leaflet on the tables was for ‘In Limbo’ – a project about the other side of the coin, the citizens of other EU countries who live in the UK. Much has been talked about this group, since the phrase ‘bargaining chips’ was first coined. I count many Europeans resident in the UK as friends myself, and meet more all the time. But it isn’t always helpful to look at the group en masse – a faceless group is easily dismissed. ‘In Limbo’ collects testimonies of individuals instead. I want to write a little more about the project, and spread the word about the important book that has come out of it.
What’s it all about?
‘In Limbo: Brexit Testimonies from EU Citizens in the UK‘ is a collection of personal accounts contributed by EU citizens living in the UK. Contributors talk about practical concerns alongside emotional turmoil, since the 2016 referendum. The aim is to give a voice to a sample of ‘the three million’ – those individuals from other EU countries who live, work and study in the UK and call this nation home. It is an antidote to the depersonalising labels often given to this group. These are moving, distressing stories which should have an impact on the national discussion – and having them collected in this accessible snapshot can only help that cause.
Who is behind the project?
Elena Remigi, an Italian interpreter who lives in the UK, felt driven to collate the European voices expressing real distress after the Brexit referendum. Her concern was that disparate voices were harder to hear, and collected they would be more powerful. In addition, she believed that most people had very little idea of the discrimination and uncertainty Europeans in the UK were facing. Everyone needed to understand this, especially the decision-makers.
Remigi enlisted the help of Tim Sykes, a British editor, and began a Facebook group in March 2017 – Our Brexit Testimonies. They were joined by Véronique Martin, a French author and academic married to a Brit, and in the UK for thirty years, and were also helped in the work by a tireless team of moderators. The Facebook group gained over 1000 members in the first month. Closely moderated, it is a safe and supportive environment for people with difficult and emotional stories to share. This resulted in 144 candid testimonies of real lives affected by Brexit.
The Book, and Where to Find it.
The book is not-for-profit and seeks a wide audience. According to Elena Remigi, it is for “everyone who is interested in or needs to be informed about the true experiences of EU citizens in the UK: members of the public, British family members of EU citizens, journalists, and decision makers in both British and European politics.” The book aims to combat misinformation with real life testimony and, therefore, also fight discrimination and prejudice.
The book is an activist project. It has been sent to more than 300 UK MPs, Lords, MEPs, EU Ambassadors in the UK and EU officials – including Barnier and Verhofstadt. Heads of state and others with influence will also be receiving copies.
The stories are grouped in five chapters, each representing a feeling: sorrow, disappointment, worry, anger and betrayal. Adding to the personal recounts, the foreword is by award-winning poet George Szirtes, a British-Hungarian who arrived in the UK as a refugee at the age of eight.
You can find the book on Amazon and Book Depository, in both print and ebook forms. It is £8.99 in print format and £4.99 as an ebook. All profits go to support the project and raising awareness of EU citizens’ rights.
“We wanted to show this human side of the Brexit story. If we only left the testimonies on Facebook, they would have gone lost. We thought they should be preserved, shared and delivered to history.” Elena Remigi
Some stories were submitted but didn’t make it into the book. Those are shared online here: http://www.ourbrexitblog.eu.
Elena Remigi turned to Dante’s Inferno to describe her feelings when the UK triggered Article 50:
“Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai in una selva oscura
ché la diritta via era perduta…”
“Midway upon the journey of life,
I found myself in a dark forest,
for the straightforward path had been lost…”
But she is also hopeful and illustrates this with more of Dante’s words:
“E quindi uscimmo a riveder le stelle.”
“Thence we came forth to rebehold the stars.”
“This is my wish for each one of us. Our limbo is not only about having the right documents or not. There is a psychological limbo too, in which we all feel we have plunged. My hope is that we can all return to behold the stars, content and settled as we first were before this referendum.” Elena Remigi
British and EU citizens alike – many of whom are parts of the same families, workforces, and friendship groups – can share this wish. Many British citizens feel a sense of limbo too – a desire to see into the future, to have some clear answers, to go back to the settled and hopeful world we had before Brexit. If British citizens feel this way, it is even more important that we understand how our European friends in the UK feel – their lives are perhaps even more affected by Brexit, their hopes, dreams and security balanced on a knife-edge, and yet they could not even vote in the referendum.
‘In Limbo’ is a very important book. I hope those decision-makers read it. I hope anyone tempted to generalise about, or dismiss, migrant people reads it. We should all read it. It is another step towards finding our common humanity, at a time of division, of moving toward understanding.
I’ve also interviewed Elena Remigi and her interview will be appearing on the blog in the next few days.
It’s also worth a mention that the Crowdfunder for this project remains open as the project continuously needs to fund the printing and dispatching of copies of the book to the right people.
Follow In Limbo on Twitter
This Europe Street article discusses the current situation for EU citizens in the UK in more depth.