Camden’s EU citizens share fears about life after Brexit as departure date approaches

The panel and some of the audience at the EU Make Camden event at Swiss Cottage Library, on Monday M

The panel and some of the audience at the EU Make Camden event at Swiss Cottage Library, on Monday March 11. Picture: Camden Council - Credit: Archant

Camden’s EU citizens spoke about the uncertainty they’re faced with ahead of Brexit, at a meeting held by the council on Monday.

Florina Tudose from the East European Resource Centre addresses the room. Picture: Camden Council

Florina Tudose from the East European Resource Centre addresses the room. Picture: Camden Council - Credit: Archant

About 150 people, including councillors and council staff, met at Swiss Cottage Library to get advice on their future and share their worries as March 29 bears down on them.

The meeting was held as Theresa May was in Strasbourg, negotiating another failed attempt to get a deal for Britain to leave the European Union.

Among the issues raised were the difference between settled status and British citizenship, what happens if EU citizens work freelance, and whether pension and healthcare rights will be affected.

Cllr Jonathan Simpson, who chaired the event at Swiss Cottage Library, said: “Camden has a long history of welcoming people.

“Every EU citizen in this borough is welcome. We value your contribution to the borough. We have a shared culture, and history and we have made Camden the place that it is.”

Camden is offering a free verification checking service for people applying for citizenship or settled status to ensure they’ve got the right documents.

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One of the people who attended was Zofia Wozniak-Rutkiewicz, who works at a children’s centre in Camden Town. She moved to Britain from Poland in 2006. Her two children were born in this country.

“The biggest worry is that you can’t prepare anything, because you don’t know what to prepare for,” said the 42-year-old.

“I think we will apply for settled status at this point, but I don’t know if we’ll have the same rights, or if we’ll be told to go back to Poland. My son has a British passport but my daughter doesn’t.”

Zofia, who lived in Macclesfield and Aberystwyth before moving to the capital, said she would like to stay in London, a city she loves. She lives with her husband and two children in Haringey.

Speaking to the Ham&High the day after the meeting, she said: “I wouldn’t say I’ve been continually worrying. My husband has been pretty laid back about it. I just want to find out if we can stay. I am probably overreacting or overthinking, but we just don’t know.”

Cllr Simpson was joined on the panel by council leader Cllr Georgia Gould, as well as Florina Tudose from the East European Resource Centre, Christiane Link, who chairs disability charity Disire, and European immigration lawyer Christopher Desira from Seraphus.

Mr Desira said he has attended 70 similar events for EU citizens in the last few months, as Britain prepares to leave the European Union. The European Commission has used his firm to work out how a settled status scheme would work for all countries in the EU.

EU residents currently have the option to apply for settled status or British citizenship. The government recently dropped the £65 cost of applying for settled status. Applying for British citizenship still remains a pricey option, with an application costing about £2,000.

Primrose Hill councillor Richard Cotton said the fees were “ridiculous.”

Another resident, who was originally from Spain, worried whether having settled status would mean becoming a “second class citizen”.

Applications to apply for settled status open on March 30.

Responding to one of the questions from the floor, Mr Desira said: “If there is a deal, pension rights and medical will remain the same.”

There was also concern about the volume of applications being made at the same time.

Residents who are carers or disabled will also now be able to apply for settled status, despite initial concerns.

Speaking afterwards, Liberal Democrat councillor for Belsize Luisa Porritt said: “There is so much information that people want to know. There have been a lot of specific questions about what rights they have but that relates to the political situation and what happens with a potential deal.”

Cllr Simpson said: “It’s been a good event, and there’s still answers we don’t know yet. One man asked me: ‘How will my driving licence work?’ It’s details like that which still aren’t clear. The government are winging it.

“I know councillors who have had people come along who had indefinite leave to remain since the 1970s, and wonder if they can stay. People just don’t know.”

Camden will hold an event to celebrate EU citizens’ contribution to the borough on April 4, with more details set to be released in the next few weeks.

Are you an EU citizen living in our area? Contact the newsdesk to share your experiences and what you’re planning to do before and after March 29. Email or call 0207 433 0119.