This is the speech given by Elena Remigi at the European Parliament on Wednesday 10th October 2018 in Brussels.
Reference: In Limbo Project presentations at European Parliament on 10th October 2018
Good evening ladies and gentlemen.
First of all I would like to thank the MEPs: Molly Scott Cato, Seb Dance, and Jean Lambert for giving us the opportunity to present the In Limbo Project.
I would also like to thank the other MEPs present: Julie and the others, their staff, the members of the commission, the media and members of the public for coming tonight. Welcome.
My name is Elena. I am from Milan. I founded the In Limbo Project and I am honoured to be here tonight to speak of the devastating impact brexit is having on the lives of 5 million EU citizens whose stories have been collected into not-for-profit books of testimonies called “In Limbo” and “In Limbo too“.
The idea of this project stems from my personal experience of dealing with the Home Office for my citizenship. Despite having obtained permanent residency, having a family, a mortgage, paying taxes in the UK, the Home Office would not believe that I was living there.
So, on top of all the tests and documents already requested and on top of my permanent residency, I had to send 3 kilos of additional evidence. It was a Kafkaesque process but sadly I realized I was not an isolated case.
In the month following the referendum, many EU citizens who like me had had no voice in it and whose rights had not been guaranteed, had started sharing their concerns as well as their feelings of anger, worry and even betrayal. So I thought that our stories, our voices, if collected in a book, could finally be heard.
The idea was also to reach the public and the politicians to raise awareness of our plight.
The aim of In Limbo is to show the human side and the human cost of Brexit.
The book contains stories of ordinary citizens who until the dreadful referendum campaign which turned us into “the other” had been living and working in the UK at times for decades and had often created new European families with other British citizens.
After the referendum however, we have been reduced to bargaining chips, in order to get a better deal.
We have been reduced to a depersonalised mass of migrants and our lives have been plunged into a state of limbo to the point that many of us now wonder: “Where is home?“.
This is a poignant question: a leitmotif present throughout the book.
I think for instance of a Dutch widow who writes: “I haven’t had a good nights sleep since the referendum.” because like many elderly people she no longer has the documents to prove that she lived in the UK. So she now fears for her future.
There are several people in similar conditions: carers, students, or stay at home wives of British husbands, as well as academics and scientists.
Dr Kinga Bersen, for instance, from Hungary was refused permanent residency although she found a breakthrough cure for a disease. Obviously not even the brightest or the best are welcome.
There is also the limbo of those who have faced racism and xenophobia. Low paid workers, Eastern European communities, and people living in strong Leave areas have often been badly targeted. So several of these people have not left their testimonies in the book for fear of being recognized or losing their jobs.
Never the less I always like to say their voices are invisibly present with us all in the book.
28 months of uncertainty have been an enormous burden for many of us. Many feel no longer safe due to the “Hostile Environment” which surrounds us and to which we will still be exposed when “Settled Status” is implemented.
Given the shameful treatment of the Windrush generation, EU citizens now wonder: what will be of us?
Will we be next?
After all we too came to the UK in good faith, were told we can stay that we did not need any other document whilst now we are asked to pay to apply for “Settled Status” in order to remain in our own home and many could still fall through the system.
Even worse, with the immigration exception to the Data Protection Bill passed in May the Home Office can deny us access to our data. This will only give us a harsher “Hostile Environment”. A “Hostile Environment” which is already among us.
People are increasingly encountering difficulties in renting, opening bank accounts, obtaining a mortgage, not to mention the 100 deportation letters sent by the Home Office by mistake a year ago.
Two were sent to members of our group. One was a Finnish academic and one a young car factory worker. He received it upon his return from the holidays.
So, this uncertainty about our rights combined with the “Hostile Environment” and the fear of the no-deal scenario is resulting in more and more people deciding to leave.
Brexodus is very real and we see it happening in our group daily.
“In Limbo” is not only a book about suffering. An unnecessary suffering as Molly said.
It is also a letter of love to a country we call home and which is now at grave risk of losing what made it special in our eyes.
Its tolerance. Its openness. Its multi-culturalism.
This however is only half of the story. From the start, we felt that a second volume was needed to capture the human cost of brexit for UK citizens who have made their home in one of the EU27 countries.
So, in June  we published a second book called “In Limbo too” in collaboration with our dear friends Brexpats Hear Our Voice and with the participation of other groups of Britons. There are also stories of UK-in-the-UK.
Why is “In Limbo too” so unique? Because when the UK government claimed that EU citizens should be used as pawns to protect UK nationals in the EU our two groups of citizens were set against each other in the hope of dividing us. Well, this collaboration proves the opposite. We are one in this fight for our rights. The majority of British citizens came to the European continent under freedom of movement. So their lives greatly depend upon it.
With this freedom at risk they now live in great uncertainty and feel abandoned by their own government.
There are feelings of bereavement, loss, and anger but an overarching theme that unifies these testimonies is how brexit has ripped communities, families and friends apart.
As one testimony puts it: “I wrestle daily with the knowledge that half of my family in England voted Leave. The pain is almost physical.”
A peculiar feeling that British citizens have experienced is also shame. Not because of something they have done but because of the way the UK government has acted since the vote.
I hope that these testimonies, and you will hear now a selection of them, will help highlight the human cost of brexit.
As one author puts it: “Please remember that I am not a statistic. I am not just words on the page and I am definitely not a political bargaining chip. I am a scared young woman who had just started building up her life when the foundations were pulled away.”
As the risk of a no-deal becomes increasingly likely, this is our appeal to politicians in the European Parliament and across the EU member states.
Please do not turn us from bargaining chips into collateral damage. Ring fence our rights under article 50 now before it is too late.
Don’t let the European dream we so much believe in die.
I would like to conclude with the great poet Dante who inspired the title and the cover of both books.
“In the middle of my life” Dante says “I found myself in a dark forest for I had lost the straight path.“.
Like Dante, in times of darkness, we sometimes struggle to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
If we look at the two covers of “In Limbo” and “In Limbo too” put next to one another we see a man on one side and a woman with a child on the other. Together they represent a family: our European family which is at great risk of being ripped asunder.
Dante’s “Inferno” ends with the verse: “And hence, we came forth to rebehold the stars.“.
This is my wish for all of us and the 5 million in particular: that we may rebehold the stars and return to be as content and settled as we first were before recent events turned our lives upside down.
Thank you for listening and I will now leave you to my friend Véronique who is co-editor of “In Limbo” and then to Debbie who is co-editor of “In Limbo too“.