Brexit project focuses on Poles' experience of immigration and deportation
Academics at the University of Wolverhampton, who have been looking at the United Kingdom’s new immigration regime following its exit from the European Union (EU), advise more caution in the treatment of Central and Eastern European (CEE) citizens in the country.
This comes after their study ‘Brexit and Deportations (BRAD): Towards a comprehensive and transnational understanding of a new system targeting EU citizens’ highlighted that EU citizens counted for half of all the deportees from the UK in 2020 under the enforced return procedure and most of these were Romanian, Polish or Lithuanian citizens.
The researchers also highlighted that cultural racism had led to an established representation of the ‘Vile Eastern European’ within British media and culture, along with Europeans being deprived of their voice in the British press; even when they were shown as victims of the immigration policy changes, they were not quoted in the articles.
Dr Aleksandra Galasińska, Principal Investigator, said: “Our study highlighted that despite pro-Leave newspapers and political narrative claiming that Britain had to regain sovereignty in order to effectively deport the EU convicts, the UK was already deporting EU citizens while still an EU member state.
“This contradicts the principle of the same equal status for all EU citizens to native residents, and a greater proportion of CEE citizens were deported, producing an unequal socio-legal likelihood of being deported among EU member states.
“The differences reproduce the divide between the ‘new’ and ‘old’ EU member states.”
Even during the toughest lockdown measures and travel restrictions, the Home Office continued to deport EU citizens on chartered flights.
On 30 April 2020, during the national lockdown in the UK, a chartered flight left London Stansted Airport with 33 deportees and as many Home Office escorts, including one passenger who had tested positive for Covid-19 after showing symptoms.
Following the launch of the UK Home Office’s EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS), the BRAD team wanted to see how many Polish citizens had applied for settled status.
By September 2020, the Home Office had registered 773,840 applications from Polish citizens.
According to Office of Immigration Statistics, 815,000 Polish people live in the UK; making a difference of 41,160. As some return migrants who no longer live in the UK had applied, and some had applied twice, the number of Polish nationals who still had not applied was high.
Given that many Polish people historically migrated to the UK with no proper documentation, the researchers believe that this will happen again and that some, using their networks, will find jobs, come as tourists and work with no permits. This could expose them to modern day slavery.
The BRAD study says that a lack of valid identity documents is among the most common reasons why people do not apply for the settlement scheme.
In order to prevent Polish citizens from becoming unauthorised migrants, the researchers urge Polish authorities to wave passport fees for citizens in dire economic situation.
Dr Agnieszka Radziwinowiczówna, the project’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow, said: “My recommendation for the UK policy makers is to revise the points-based system as it will contribute to the increase in the number of unauthorised migrants from the EU.
“We believe lowering the salary threshold and stopping the NHS surcharge are necessary, otherwise EU citizens will come to the UK and work with no right to work.”
The project also compared four Polish and four British media outlets.
They found that the topic of deportation was hotly debated in the British press while in the Polish media it did not attract any attention.
Dr Radziwinowiczówna added: “This is a meaningful silence in Poland.
“The fact that the Polish media did not write about the deportation of Polish citizens clearly shows their lack of interest and tabooisation of the topic leading to the double exclusion of these Polish citizens; they are being excluded and banned from the UK and they are silenced and thus symbolically excluded in the Polish discourse.”
In the UK, in general, the newspapers that identified as more pro-remain created a positive image of EU citizens, while pro-Leave titles presented them either negatively or created a utilitarian perspective of Europeans as a cheap labour force.
However, even in the pro-Remain press, the narrative juxtaposed the British public with ‘them’ (EU citizens), which the researchers say shows that there was no solidarity and in this sense Brexit ‘happened’ even before the UK officially left the EU.
Despite the pro-Leave press being in favour of ‘desirables’ staying, they wrote extensively about groups that it considered as deserving to be deported, for example jobless EU citizens or EU rough sleepers, but especially EU convicts.
The researchers therefore proposed that there was a representational pattern of the ‘Vile Eastern European’; the criminal coming to the UK from the ‘new member states’ and a threat to public security and moral order, which they say demonstrates that the pre-Brexit ideologies of deportability were underpinned by cultural racism and this now has a risk of influencing new immigration policies and behaviours.
The BRAD project received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship.
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