Europeans fret over post-Brexit future
WOJTEK BEKAS’S life in England started in 2007 when a friend picked him up at the airport and drove him to his new home in the town of Kettering, Northampton.
“It was small and it was empty,” recalled the 32-year-old, from the city of Poznan in west Poland. “I had to stay there to make some kind of start.”
For the next three years he trained at culinary school, worked in delivery jobs and for East Midlands Trains before moving to Brighton in 2010, where he works as a baker.
On June 24 he and thousands of other Europeans in the county awoke to a new world order, emboldened hostility, and lots of questions – following a decision in which most had no say.
“I am disappointed because in my circle we were kind of convinced we were going to stay,” he said.
“Everybody thought, ‘the EU does good. We are better off together’.
“Now we know the country is so divided.
“I hope the government won’t tell us to go back to our countries.
“I think I have contributed fully to this country; I have worked hard, respect the culture and respect the people.”
Although some Brexiteers have made assurances to EU nationals living here, immigration policy is uncertain.
Mr Bekas feels confident he will be able to stay, but permission is not the only thing on his and others’ minds.
“We also have questions like, are we actually welcome here?” he said. “Maybe people want me to be out of the country?
“I saw about the graffiti on the Polish centre in London. I know these things have been going on before, but do people feel they have more rights to do this now?”
Jamie Mahaddie, his Dutch colleague at Real Patisserie in St George’s Street, Brighton, shares the same apprehension, although both stress they have not known hostility in Brighton.
“I think that leaving the EU is not necessarily a bad thing,” said the 35-year-old of Scottish and Dutch heritage, who has lived here for 20 years
“But unfortunately a lot of the xenophobic and racist reactions have come out of it; that is the sad part of it. “And I feel sad for anyone who is British and who sympathises for stay.”
Down the road at restaurant La Vendimia, Maria Marcet, 25, recently left her home in Alicante, Spain, to pursue a career as a translator.
“I think it is a mistake,” she said of the vote, adding she thought it would be bad for free movement and for work, something relied upon by many in her country, which has youth unemployment of around 45 per cent
“Also,” she added, “we have a lot of English people living in Spain.
“In my area in Alicante, I have been living with English people since I was young – they have their restaurants, their houses – so it is strange.
“Now we feel like they don’t want us here.”
The day after the referendum, she recalled, customers at work apologised to her for the result.
“They said they were a little bit embarrassed,” she recalled. “And I said, it’s not your fault. The world is a mess right now.”
On the other side of the county, Aleksandra Janowicz, who runs a website for the local Polish community in Hastings, spoke of “her sadness, a bit of bitterness and disappointment”.
Mrs Janowicz, who settled here after planning to only come for summer work, added: “The Remain supporters did not, in my opinion, feel strong enough to show their support for their option in equal measure.
“And I am not very surprised about it because I would not feel comfortable with the blue poster in my window in case someone did not like it there, especially considering my background.”
She said she would like to be part of an “outward looking Britain,” adding: “I do not know anyone who is truly enamoured with the EU; everyone frets about it, in every country.
“And with the level of annoyance with it I believe it would have been possible, with time, to change some of the more ridiculous rules from the inside.”
Her husband, she said, had since gone to renew his Polish passport, while another friend was no longer sure she wanted to stay here.
“She felt very uneasy walking in the street on Friday thinking that potentially every other person she passed by wanted her to leave this country,” Mrs Janowicz said.
For Swiss students in Brighton Mischa Nydegger, 26, and Biran Bektas, 16, however, Brexit meant better news.
“I think it will be cheaper for us to study here,” said Mr Nydegger, adding that he voted ‘no’ in Switzerland’s referendum when it, too, decided to stay out of the EU.
“I don’t like the EU,” he said. “I don’t like the way they work and the opinions. I think they don’t work at sorting out the problems.”