A morning of June 24 was like no other. Some people were woken up in the early hours by a piercing sound of their mobile phones, when their friends wanted to reach them. Others anxiously climbed out of their beds. Most of them immediately switched on BBC news on their tellies only to find out that their worst fears came true – the majority of British citizens voted ‘leave’ in the EU referendum.
That same morning, with a trembling voice and his wife on his side, the PM resigned. What happened next, was a full-on chaos: the markets crashed, the pound fell to its lowest rate since 1985 and Scotland hinted they might want to rethink if they’re staying in the UK. What will happen next?
At this point, no one knows for sure. Firstly, the Government has to be patched together after the hit it received. Theresa May has been appointed the new PM. George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has travelled to the USA and will also visit Asia in the upcoming weeks to try to convince investors that the UK is still worthy their money. Meanwhile, leaders of liberal political parties across Europe, including Ryszard Petru, the leader of the Nowoczesna (‘Modern’) opposition party in Poland, called for as quick as possible exit of the UK from the EU.
However, apart from the political and economic changes, there was something else that has shifted, maybe irreversibly – the way European (including Polish) immigrants feel about the island, their second home. It is not an exaggeration to say that their future suddenly became uncertain and that their fears have only been strengthened by Theresa May’s refusal to guarantee the EU citizens the right to stay in the country indefinitely.
Some Poles, like 25 years old Katarzyna Otto from London, are not so worried about the future: “I was a bit anxious at first but then I realised that nothing will change for at least two years and maybe even after that. I just got a new job and things are looking up”.
Jacek Orzel, a 33 years old architect has a less positive outlook: “My architectural firm is already making cuts in spending and we worry about our positions in the future. I started thinking about moving to Canada, maybe Germany”.
Poles are currently one of the biggest immigrant groups in Britain with over 800,000 working and living here. Most came after 2004 and even though a lot of them migrated back home, many stayed and settled, opened their own small businesses, bought properties and started families. They acclimated really well despite the rising anti-immigrant rhetoric from nationalistic parties like UKiP and even David Cameron’s unfavorable comments about Poles abusing the benefits system.
Unfortunately, in the days following the Brexit vote, the number of anti-immigrant incidents has increased. “Go home, Polish vermin” cards have been distributed through letter boxes in Huntington and many more similar events have been reported by Twitter and Facebook users.
Dagmara Chmielewska, the leader of the London branch of Nowoczesna party believes that Poles in the UK need not to worry: “ We have to keep working hard, now more than ever to prove that our presence is extremely beneficial to British economy and society. Despite some anti-Polish attacks, many Brits support us and that’s what we need to focus on”.
Some Poles are already helping their countrymen change the pessimistic perspective or at least trying to soften the blow: Pawel Wargan and Janusz Kaliszczak, both long-term migrants and activists set up a website: immigrants.help that answers questions about the post-Brexit Britain and offers advice on what to do in case of hate crimes. Let’s hope the guidance on the latter will be unnecessary.