English translation of the article by Laura Spini in Vice

The group that helps Italians in the United Kingdom not to get caught in the chaos of Brexit

Founded by an Italian expat, UKCEN provides useful information for European citizens to navigate in post-Brexit chaos.

Being a European citizen in the UK post-Brexit means being a messy situation. In fact, nothing has happened yet: we are not in a scenario at Cormac McCarthy, crossed by solitary lawmakers with anti-European compulsions, with the rough terrain spaced only by potato celery, Marmite cans, and Queen portraits.

For those who have settled in the country with the intention of staying there, however, things start to become really complicated. How to ensure your freedom of movement once the United Kingdom leaves the European Union? What rights will keep the members of the other 27 states? What will the bureaucratic process mean for mixed families?

Responses have not yet come, and Europeans feel that time is about to expire. The government’s official position is “do nothing” – it’s a bit the government equivalent to shouting “Fire, what a fire?” while you roll to the ground to dampen the flames.

There is, then, who has thought to run to the shelter; where “shelter” means two pieces of paper: permanent residence (Permanent Residence) and citizenship. The first is a document that shows that you have lived in the UK for 5 consecutive years, the second a document dependent on the first one, which verifies the rights of a citizen in your country of adoption. In the UK, a country that does not follow the logic “taxation = representation”, citizenship is also the only way to vote in a political election, or in a referendum like the one in Brexit. Both practices are complex, and both are expensive to the limits of the prohibition: net of additional costs, the two combined sums together cost between 1500 and 2000 pounds.

And here is where our protagonists come. Claudia Borgognoni Holmes born in Rome, expat since 1998, British naturalized in 2007- she has founded UKCEN (UK Citizenship European Nationals), an online meeting point for Europeans looking for legal support in preparing applications for citizenship and residence permanent. Its goal? Make citizenship more accessible to Europeans to gain the most effective weapon they have at their disposal: the vote.

On UKCEN, a series of questions and answers (the “FAQs”, the Bible of the group) helps to frame your case in the general sense (you worked for five years now?) Are you a student? Do you have a private insurance? You were at home to keep your children while your / your partner was working?). Subsequently, individual users’ questions are examined – pro bono and individually – by a group of lawyers.

“In the beginning, I was trying to gather resources accessible to everyone because I saw many people online who had difficulty managing their applications,” explains Borgognoni Holmes. “At the time I did not know the Permanent Residence existed, nor did I know it was a prerequisite for citizenship. Then I realized that the process for naturalization was much more difficult than I had found it in 2006.”

Everything has become more serious when she has decided to involve three lawyers: “In other groups, there were lawyers who volunteered to help users. The first one I contacted was Tim McMahon, to whom I asked for documents that he offered as online resources. ” He joined Victoria Sharkey and Tariq Nawaz, an expert on EEA family visas. “At that time, it was four of us and six administrators. Now, between lawyers (eight) and administrators, we are twenty-four.”

To hear these names is how to name rock stars. Borgognoni Holmes, McMahon, Sharkey and Nawaz are a bit Crosby Stills Nash and Young of the UKCEN universe, because they are consistently present, and along with all the other known group names-are available online with an amazing constancy.
The organization, which does not have salaries for its volunteers, has regular schedules and answers forty to fifty questions a day. The founder explains to me how the group works: “We are not online all twenty-four at the same time because of course, everyone needs to create personal spaces offline, we have a calendar where we can see who’s available and who is not available.”

The crucial aspect, which Borgognoni Holmes speaks of, is that there is no incorrect information and that they are always controlled by a lawyer as well. For this reason, questions are individually screened within a private group: “There is perhaps one of a kind supervision, I have not seen other sites that offer a response with a peer review approach, a review between professionals.”

Another crucial aspect is the work done to avoid creating further panic and silencing alarms (alarming foundations, sometimes when considering the continuous mistakes of Home Office, the Department of Internal Affairs). The administrator of the Adda Macchich group, as well as the official organizer of the FAQ, explains to me that “the facts is what matters above all.” With negatives and alarms, nothing is gained, Brexit is an unexplored territory. Facts that clarify various aspects of this process. Invariably, the fact that nothing is known leads to filling the voids with speculations that are often without bases Social media allows misinformation to spread in oil and it is difficult and tiring to contain it.”

Borgognoni Holmes continues: “There are extreme cases where people are accessing social media expressing their concerns, and instead of being reassured, they are led to worry even more. This is irresponsible. There are people who are affected by mental health difficulties, and we clearly say that we are not prepared to provide help in this field, and we direct them to bodies such as the Emotional Support Service for Europeans. Our group is doing everything to remove these ‘myths’ and give people concrete facts and info, if we do not have them, we must be honest: we haven’t got them, we do not have the glass ball. ”

One of Brexit’s most deplorable “myths” is those of the deportations. However, it is a myth based on reality: before becoming prime minister, Theresa May-in the former role of Secretary of State-started a deportation regime against non-EU citizens, setting a revenue threshold for citizens with a partner from other parts of the world, and this has actually ended up separating many families.

The deportations of European citizens, says Borgognoni Holmes, will not be so easy: “It is difficult to make comments that are based on facts because the situation is flexible at the moment. we know that there will be no deportations, as many say, exaggerating with this speculation that people will be removed, repatriated, this, in our view, is not a prospect, even if the negotiations go badly. First of all, it is not in the intentions of the United Kingdom to have such an approach. In addition, there are laws that protect these people. ”

There are, of course, risk categories: travelers and homeless people, adds Borgognoni Holmes. “The new proposal for settled status, which has been widely circulated in these times, a document that clarifies some of the details of the government, seems to remove some uncertainties. We, as a group, have asked the government to clarify which are the eligibility parameters ” Borgognoni Holmes tells me, “to be sure that no category is excluded: from people with disabilities to those who care for their family members, to those who do not work because of medical conditions.”

UKCEN aims to expand its knowledge and intends to do so with the support of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, a non-profit organization to defend the rights of all migrants (http://www.jcwi.org.uk/). “We have started a fundraising initiative and our users can make a donation directly to them: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/ukcen-jcwi.

We do not receive any kind of revenue, but in return, JCWI provides support in our training: if there is a course that lawyers or administrators want to do, they offer us a discount or the entire free course. ”

Borgognoni Holmes speaks both as a European citizen and a British citizen: “What I am doing is meaningful in two ways. On the one hand, to help people who, like me, have chosen to leave a country for another, on the other hand, as a British citizen, I would like this country not to go out in smoke.”

And to do so, it is important to raise awareness. “I would like (people in the UK) to take a more progressive and open approach to solidarity towards our communities,” she concludes. “In the case of Brexit, three million people were unable to vote, and so their fate was decided by the rest of the population. The fact that more Europeans become (UK) citizens and can vote is a way to give them a voice a way to see a change”.




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