Why Freedom of Movement was conflated with Migration and Asylum.
Dear reader, you have no idea of the pain I feel in having to write this. I want to throw up. I have a fever. I want to crawl into my bed and cry.
A few months ago, I went to a training day about ‘NHS payments’ for non-British citizens. A very depressing and upsetting subject. I was scared.
The people around me were clearly all engaged in some form with what the British now call ‘migration’. This includes asylum seekers and refugees, non-British immigrants, and now also EU citizens. I am sure that most of my fellow participants and even the lawyer who was explaining things to us were experts in the field of ‘migration’ — but they had no concept of what Freedom of Movement is.
I ran into a huge lack of knowledge and a lot of aggression. Some of the nice British migration experts started to scream at me when I revealed my EU identity. They simultaneously questioned my right to be there, denied that EU citizens were being discriminated against, and at the same time accusing me of not taking my proper place among the lowly migrants.
At first I couldn’t understand it.
But then, slowly, it dawned on me.
Somehow, to them, I was not good enough in two different ways at once: I was not needy and poor enough, not dependent on them enough.
On another occasion, a British person actually said to me ‘Why should you be any better than any other migrant?’ I think the operative word here is ‘better’. Who decides? The British of course. Relishing in taking my rights away so that all us ‘migrants’ (which often includes asylum seekers, to make it even scarier) are far, far below them and in their power.
They would decide what my fate would be.
This is an attitude that I’ve run into many times since, including — sad to say — even in some Remainer groups. Other EU citizens have told me that they experienced similar incidents.
I do feel that this attitude against ‘migrants’ — and now also EU citizens — is colonial. It’s very deeply ingrained, an unconscious bias/prejudice. And when an unconscious prejudice is exposed, people often get very angry.
But here is the other element in this painful tragedy: As an EU citizen in another EU country, I am not actually a migrant. I am a citizen exercising my treaty rights. So is a British person in all other EU countries. They are also not migrants.
Why is this so utterly incomprehensible to so many British people when it seems quite easy to understand for many people in other EU countries?
Well, first of all Freedom of Movement of EU citizens is a very new concept. You might almost call it revolutionary, if you weren’t afraid of being overrun by trolls.
It transcends the nation state, just as the EU does in general, but it also exists in a kind of hybrid version with national citizenships. Just as say, being a citizen of Manchester or Cardiff co-exists with being British (if you are British, of course).
This model is new, but not that new. It has been the law/our right/our birthright since 1992. No other EU country is planning to expel EU citizens. So why do so many highly intelligent British people find it impossible to understand?
Because of a very toxic kind of nationalism that can see only nation states, nothing else.
And because of the Great British conflation.
In Brexit Britain, Freedom of Movement, Migration and Asylum/Refugees have been deliberately conflated to create the ‘threat of the foreigner’.
And now, of all the Brexit goals, only one is still achievable: removing foreigners from the country — and right now, first and foremost foreigners from EU countries. On Brexit day, we will all, at a stroke, be made into migrants who have to apply for a kind of asylum status, with the terms dictated by the British who will then be our overlords, able to deny our application, and able to change the conditions of our residency any time they want. And of course we will all be held in a special register whose data we will not be allowed to access.
Right now, we are your equals.
But, as the nice British person said to me: ‘Why should you be better than another migrant?’
In my personal opinion, the way the UK Home Office deals with migrants is appalling. I’ve written about the despicable creation and practice of the Hostile Environment elsewhere.
I don’t think I am ‘better’ than anyone else, no matter where they come from.
And also: right now, I and almost 4 million others in this country are still citizens.
I am not better, but I am also not inferior to you.
Dear reader, you have no idea of the pain I feel in having to write this.
Here is a very short guide to the distinction between the terms for foreigners in the UK.
More information is, of course, easily available at the finger of a Google...
Freedom of Movement
The right of EU citizens exercising their rights of free movement under the Maastricht and Lisbon treaties. We all have a form of ‘secondary citizenship’ in every other EU country.
This includes the right to work, retire, run a business, receive health care.
Because EU citizens are exercising a right of citizenship, they are not migrants. They (we) are EU citizens. Freedom of Movement in the EU is a new concept, it transcends the nation state to a certain extent but is also still connected with it. It’s a hybrid, and it didn’t exist before 1992.
Currently, at least 3.6 million EU citizens are exercising their treaty rights in the UK, and almost 2 million UK citizens do the same in other EU countries.
Migrating means moving from one place to another. Someone who moves from Scotland to London is a migrant. If Scotland was an independent country, and both the UK and Scotland were in the EU, that Scottish person would exercise their Freedom of Movement. If the UK was no longer in the EU, that Scottish person would be a migrant from an unrelated country, with no special rights. A person from Cornwall moving to Aberdeen would be a third country national, with no rights of Freedom of Movement, like someone from other parts of the world.
Non-EU immigrant numbers are difficult to establish, since the home office includes students on time limited visas, but estimates are around 2.4 million. However, over the last 2 years, EU to UK ‘migration’ (in reality: Freedom of Movement) has fallen significantly below non-EU to UK migration (correct term), with many more EU citizens now leaving the EU than entering it.
An asylum seeker is someone who is fleeing persecution and war. The UK, like many other countries, has a system in place to recognize individual asylum seekers as refugees — granting them asylum. If they are not granted asylum, they are sent back. Right now, all asylum seekers in the UK come from non-EU countries.
In 2015, the numbers of refugees and asylum seekers were:
The UK has the highest percentage of asylum rejections in the EU.🔷
- Asylum seekers, the UK and Europe (FullFact.org).
Liked this story? Here’s what you can do next:
(This piece was originally published on The Blog!)
(Cover: Dreamstime/Philippe Porter - Will the UK become isolated by leaving EU: An island nation?)