I’m Chloe, a 31 year old PhD student living in Finland. After living here nearly 7 years I have just been granted Finnish citizenship making me a dual national and securing my position. From day one here I had planned to get Finnish citizenship as I want to stay here permanently but Brexit certainly gave the process an extra edge and added importance!
Being an EU citizen here in Finland has not been easy. Finland has one of the lowest percentages of immigrants in the EU, and only about 4,000 Brits in a population of 5.5 million. Despite a generally positive attitude towards Brits here the system seems to be designed to make life as hard as possible for those immigrating permanently to Finland. The main thing as a foreigner in Finland is to know your rights because, unfortunately, some bureaucrats don’t know the rights of EU citizens: I was asked which resident permit I held when these are only required for non-EU citizens and I had to get Your Europe Advice, the EU’s legal advice service, involved to get my social security coverage here. I finally got it after a six month battle. I hope Brits here will use the time left before Brexit to acquire Finnish citizenship if they are eligible. Unfortunately some are prevented from doing this by not having sufficient Finnish or Swedish language skills having lived in an English-speaking bubble.
I have watched in horror the way Migri (the Finnish Immigration Service) in concert with the Finnish police have treated asylum seekers here, illegally forcibly deporting children in some cases, and I do worry for my fellow Brits when they lose their EU citizen status and become non-EU residents. Will they be able to acquire residents’ permits? Or will they become undocumented migrants? The situation in the UK seems equally threatening for EU nationals there with distressing letters regarding forced deportation mistakenly being sent. So I don’t go along at all with those Brits here who have a blasé attitude and think that “It’ll be alright.” I have instead adopted a mentality of “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.” We Brits are in a privileged group. Some of us, me included, were born EU citizens and we really don’t know what its like to at the bottom of the pile in Finland, ie an immigrant with an uncertain or unconfirmed status. I sincerely hope the Brits here do not have to find out what that’s like but, aside from acquiring Finnish citizenship, Brits’ hopes lie with the UK and EU agreeing on the rights of Brits abroad. It’s out of our hands.
I had a proxy vote in the referendum and my Finnish partner, Mika, and I were on holiday in Gdansk, Poland on polling day. I stayed up to watch the BBC online coverage of the first results coming in and felt that things would be alright. I was woken the next morning by a text message from my friend Stan saying simply ‘f*ck’ and I knew the worst had happened. Sixteen months later I feel that on some level I’m still in denial: how can this be happening? My first reaction was one of total alienation from my country. I just didn’t understand ‘my’ people. But I soon put things into perspective: 51.9% of those who voted, voted leave. So it’s not actually that ‘half the country’ is against me. It helped a lot that my whole family and my close friends are all Remainers although my Mum did have to have a word with my Grandad when he pondered voting leave: she reminded him that his daughter lives in France and that I live in Finland and that he would be jeopardising our futures!
Watching from afar it seems that the whole process of ‘Brexting’ is and will be agonising. I wonder if it is even possible for the UK to untangle itself successfully from the EU and I fear the ‘cliff edge’ option with the EU ‘pulling the plug’ in 2019. The whole thing is also obviously going to be very costly in all ways: economically, politically and socially. Also, whilst the focus is on Brexit, so many other problems in Britain are being pushed to the sidelines or swept under the rug. In summary Brexit just seems to me total folly and a huge waste of resources.
I have tried to understand the Brexiteer mentality as, tempting though it is to label those who voted leave as racists and /or idiots, mud-slinging is not rally useful. I think the Leave campaign touched people’s hearts and minds, and built on ‘gut feelings’ in a way that Remain did not. Remain did not make a strong, passionate case for why we should stay. Remain’s focus was on the ‘facts and figures’ and the economic perils of leaving, which, whilst accurate and realistic, were not going to get anybody’s heart racing. As we later saw with Donald Trump’s successful Presidential campaign, getting people emotionally involved and invested is very important, the ‘facts’ seem to be secondary.
I hope in future we can look back at this time as ‘a moment of madness’ which the UK and the EU managed to survive more or less in tact and recover successfully from. I still feel British, though separated by both time and space from life in the UK, and it is some comfort that I am not alone in feeling deep regret that Brexit is happening.
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