My mum fled to the UK from Somalia’s civil war, now Brexit may uproot her all over again

By: Dahaba Ali Hussen @DahabaH

One contentious topic that, in my opinion, is not receiving enough consideration in the post-Brexit debate, is how EU citizens currently living in the UK will be affected by immigration.

According to the government, if you’re an EU, EEA or Swiss citizen, you and your family can apply to the EU Settlement Scheme to continue living in the UK after 30 June 2021.

However, there is still a chance that your application may be rejected and the fear that the criteria could change (as so much to do with Brexit has already).

Having to relocate again after Brexit would be a traumatic enough experience for anyone – imagine having to leave your work, friends, the neighbourhood that you have become accustomed to and potentially even your family. But what if you had to relocate again as a former refugee?

My mother fled the civil war in Somalia and came to the UK via the Netherlands through secondary immigration. This is quite common among refugees who live in more than one country before they settle. Other examples include the recent case of mostly Iranian asylum seekers crossing the English Channel from France in small boats to the UK last year.

In these examples, refugees are hoping to escape from their former lives in the hopes of establishing better ones – and as we all know, human rights and protections in the UK tend to be proportionally better than in a number of developing countries. According to UK immigration law, to stay in the UK as a refugee you must be either stateless or fearing prosecution in your own country and failed to receive protection from the authorities.

In the case of my mother, she was suffering from PTSD from the war and followed my father, who had promised her a better life, to the UK. When I ask about the time she spent in the Netherlands, she says she doesn’t quite remember – with fresh memories of the war looming over her, she cared simply about providing for her children. Since then, she has lived and worked in Britain for well over a decade. She has in all respects (although I personally dislike the connotations of this word) “integrated” into British society.

Now my mother feels a sense of anxiety whenever Brexit is mentioned. I also hold Dutch nationality, but my fears do not run as deep as hers. She has asked me numerous times if she will be forced to move again and worries because her memory of the Netherlands is hazy due to her suffering from shock at the time. It may seem like the least of politicians’ worries at the moment, but we need to treat the mental health of these former refugees more carefully.

It’s the same with other former refugees who have come to the UK via secondary immigration. Fatima* came to the UK via Sweden and is now concerned about the future of her immigration status. I spoke with her and she seemed visibly troubled as soon as I brought up the topic of Brexit. “It’s difficult because what do you do when most countries, most politicians don’t seem to care about real people’s lives,” she said.

A common theme that I have observed in my community is that in most families, the men and/or fathers had already reached safety in the form of a western country (ie, Sweden) through procuring work permits. It was usually the women that were left behind in Somalia to flee the civil war and join them later.

Thus, when they were reunited with their partners, the male breadwinner would decide that he wanted to move to the UK and so the women had to follow suit. Often, this meant that women were effectively debased and their agency taken away from them.

Most of these women navigated these treacherous asylum routes on their own, often with small infants to settle in the UK. Only now, they fear the future of the places they’ve called home once more.

This was the case with Maryam*, who would have stayed in the Netherlands had her husband not forced her to relocate to the UK. But now she says it was the best decision that she could have made. She brags about her children’s academic success and the relatively low level of racism she has encountered here in London.

When we think about EU citizens, it’s important that we also factor in former refugees. It is not as simple as them returning to their country of origin. Often, those countries are war-torn and it’s unsafe for them to return.

As for them returning to the countries of their nationality? Most have only lived in these countries for a few months, a few years at most, and the UK is now their home. Even the mere thought of relocating can be harrowing for some.

Politicians need to address what will become of former refugees who are now EU citizens post-Brexit. It’s a lot more than geopolitics and border control; rather, it has to do with displacing innocent people and offering them no means of solace or clarity.

*names have been changed

Source: The Independent