‘I am not a person anymore, I am just a nationality’: Norwich’s EU nationals share their Brexit anguish
- Credit: Archant
European Union nationals living in Norfolk have voiced their fears about their status in the UK as the country moves closer to Brexit.
It comes as Prime Minister Theresa May prepares to trigger Article 50 on Wednesday, effectively starting the two-year clock within which Britain is expected to leave the European Union.
Mrs May has said resolving the rights of EU nationals in the UK and British expats in mainland Europe will be one of her early priorities in negotiations - but it continues to be an uncertain time for many, including numerous people from other European countries who have made their homes in Norfolk and contribute to the county.
More than 100 people attended the Securing Your Right To Remain In Brexit Britain event at the Forum in Norwich yesterday to seek free specialist legal advice on their situations from London-based Wesley Gryk Solicitors.
The event was organised by the Norwich Cares for EU group. Judith Tigershiold, from the group, said: 'We expected 15 or 20 people [to come] and more than 120 people expressed interest and many more would have come if we had had the space.
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'I find it extremely distressing hearing people's stories.
'I feel ashamed as somebody British that we are putting people through this amount of stress when they have made their lives here and we are benefiting from their skills.
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'They are our doctors, our nurses, our teachers and many other things besides.'
Mr Gryk spoke of how currently most EU nationals living in Britain had 'automatic rights' with regards to residency without the need for paperwork and, while nobody knew for sure what would happen after Brexit, applying now for documents confirming their current rights would put people in a stronger position post-Brexit.
A crucial piece of paperwork is the permanent residence document which can be obtained by people who fulfil the relevant criteria and have lived in the UK for five years.
However the mass of questions raised yesterday by EU nationals highlighted that for many the application process was causing a great deal of concern, with some people seemingly ineligible for the document despite living in the UK for far more than five years.
Arabella Sansegundo Mulero, a 25-year-old Norwich University of the Arts student from Spain, came to Norwich in 2010 and has made her life here. She said: 'I feel very insecure. I am not sure if I fit the permanent residence [criteria]. Before I felt that I was a normal person like everyone else and I feel that now I have been questioned. I am not a person anymore I am just a nationality.'
Laure Ollivier-Minns, a 49-year-old artist and teacher from France, has been in the UK for over 30 years, moving to Norfolk in 1989 with her British husband who is a GP. The couple have lived in Norwich since 2000 and have two children.
However, she fears she is not eligible for the permanent residence document for several reasons.
'It is cruel, unbearable, unfair, that despite being here for 30 years, despite my contribution in that time, I do not have the right to stay,' she said.
Elisabetta Cavalli, a 58-year-old graphic designer from Italy, has been living in Norwich for 32 years.
While she has a resident permit which was issued in 1991 she is finding it difficult to establish whether it will still be valid post-Brexit.
She said: 'I feel indignant. I have contributed with 32 years of work and taxes. I have made my life here. I do not like to be made to feel like a possible bargaining chip [in EU negotiations].
Her friend Paola Colombo, 53 and also from Italy, returned to Norwich in 2009 with her British husband and their son after previously studying at the University of East Anglia. She works for the charity Norwich and Central Norfolk Mind. She said: 'For me it is fairly straightforward but through my job I see a lot of people who are affected negatively by the whole situation that has started to develop since last June. We feel it is extremely unfair to be put in this very uncertain situation.'
? Email Norwich Cares For EU at NorwichCares4EU@gmail.com or find the group on Facebook.