General Election 2017: BBC feature on the EU citizens in the UK who can't vote


A BBC feature has drawn attention to the 3.4 million citizens of other EU countries living in the UK, many any of whom never sought British citizenship because they never imagined Brexit would happen.

Now that it is happening, how do they feel about a general election dominated by Brexit, in which they cannot vote?

Raluca Enescu (Social Media Officer) and Michal Siewniak (East of England Coordinator) were interviewed for the feature.

Commenting on the series of interviews, Dr Ruvi Ziegler, Associate Professor of Law, University of Reading, and advisor to The New Europeans Citizenship Unit said:

This article is important for two reasons. 

Firstly, it higlights the prospective disenfranchisement of EU citizens from local government elections if Britain leaves the EU, and the need to fight against it.

Secondly, it shows there is a clear case for re-opening the eligibility debate, should there be a change in the current antipathy towards a ratification referendum.

We reproduce the interviews with Raluca and Michal below.

 

Romanian citizen Raluca Enescu, 27, lives in south London

 

'I desperately wish I could vote'

On Facebook, people were talking about the election. I said: "I'm an immigrant, I have no right to vote. If there are any people who are too disgusted to vote, please vote for me." So I now have a guy in Manchester who will vote on my behalf. A lot of people are complaining immigrants are not integrated into society. But political participation is part of being integrated, isn't it? It does mean a lot for me that I'm disqualified from voting. I have no idea how my status in the UK will change as a result of the referendum. I'm one of those people who is facing uncertainty about whether I will be able to secure permanent residency or not.

I came here as a Masters student about five years ago. I think I chose the university rather than London - the London School of Economics had the best programme in my field. But I settled in right away. I met my friends, my boyfriend, and I work in public health policy. Now, I don't have the same sense of loyalty to this country that I used to have. If I hadn't met my boyfriend I might have already moved somewhere else. London feels very sympathetic, but smaller, monocultural towns are not safe places to be immigrants. EU migrants didn't vote in the referendum either. I feel like this whole situation has happened because of how disenfranchised immigrants are. The person who has been given the biggest voice and listened to the most is the small-town working-class person who doesn't like immigration. I remember feeling angry when Russell Brand was saying: "I can't be bothered voting." As someone who couldn't vote, I desperately wished I could.

Polish-born Michal Siewniak, 37, lives in Watford, Hertfordshire

'I feel like a second-class citizen'

I remember well, as a child growing up during communism, when my parents were not able to freely cast their vote. I was 10 when the Berlin Wall collapsed. I remember my parents then being able to express their views in the democratic process. So for me, not being able to vote is like going back 20 years. I was proud to vote in the council elections. I must admit that I love doing it. But I won't be able to vote in the general election. As a local activist and former councillor, I now wonder, will I be able to vote again, or stand in the local elections, when the UK leaves the EU? Voting, standing in any elections - local or national - is such an important part of being a fully integrated part of any society. So I do feel like a second-class citizen. I'm seen as a burden and my contribution is not recognised. I've been here 12 years. I have a life here. My kids, aged 11, eight and two, go to school here. Working in the charity sector, I do my best to help others to integrate.

We know that we are leaving the EU. The fact that we are leaving gives me and my family uncertainty. I am worried that many EU citizens, who come here for good reasons, will face discrimination in all walks of life just because of where we come from and irrespective of what we bring. There was a lot of hate crime last year. People felt ignored and expressed their frustration in an unpleasant way. A friend of mine opened a Polish restaurant and it was vandalised. I know people are concerned about immigration. I read in the newspaper the other day that in Boston the number of migrants was up 460% and that has changed the local community. I'm not surprised people are upset. But migrants are here to work. If British people don't want to do fruit-picking jobs, who's going to do them? They aren't coming here because they want to take jobs away from British people. There's a demand. I want to have a platform to raise my concerns. I also hope that the prime minister will recognise that many EU nationals in the UK are keen not only to work in Britain, but also to shape the future of this country by being part of the political process.

'British people's opinions should be prioritised'

 

Read the full BBC article here.

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