I wrote this short piece with my husband a year ago – I think it is still relevant.
I would like to share some thoughts that have bugged me since the words “migrants” and “immigrants” have started to be seamlessly used to refer to EU citizens in the UK post-referendum, and that have been brought back to the fore by the current Windrush scandal.
We did not come here as MIGRANTS, we came as CITIZENS of the EU settling in a part of the EU. This distinction is not a matter of semantics but rather, as the treatment of the “Windrush generation” shows us, of tremendous significance going forward. The shift from citizens to migrants, the deprivation of our standing as citizens, is a very real change in legal status with very real detrimental consequences, as we are already experiencing.
The “Windrush generation” arrived here as citizens and, unbeknownst to them, were reclassified as de-facto migrants by a series of pieces of legislation (immigration acts) that, over decades, buried the unassailable right to be here as citizens under layers of bureaucratic demands that culminated in them being vulnerable to the “hostile environment”, which subjected them to incarceration and/or deportation or the threat of both; this after being further deprived of basic human rights like a roof over their heads or access to healthcare.
In a real sense the purely legal situation of the Windrush people is better than that which we EU citizens face. The Windrush people, by the legal terms in existence on their entry and those agreed subsequently, were always citizens – the problem is that they were retroactively required to prove it: this proof became, with the passage of time, more and more unreasonable, to the point we are at now, where it is seen to be part of a system of abuse.
At this point, because of that status as citizens, the government is forced to admit a terrible mistake has happened, for how could “UK citizens” be treated like this by the UK government agencies (this ignores the fact that that is exactly how the system is set up, by you know who, to perform).
Here lies the problem: “EU migrants” does not sound the same and does not mean the same as “EU citizens” – hence the need for watertight protection of our status going forward. And, of at least equal importance, is the need for the protection of our rights: the 8 years ECJ oversight at the moment looks very thin when seen in the light of the Windrush people’s problems after 40, 50, 60 years.
Their situation was rescued in part by the intervention of Caribbean Commonwealth heads of state. Who will intervene on our (and our children’s) behalf in 50 years time?
If this watertight protection is not built into the final agreement reached between the EU and the UK government, then our rights will never be secure enough short of becoming UK citizens, if that.
Thank you for reading! RA MA