“Why don’t you go back to where you come from?” When 12 years old, the class bully asked me this question. I had dared to stop her from throwing my cap into the mud for the third time that week. When I got home crying, I told my Mum and she explained to me that we cannot go back to our country. She told me that we had as much right to live here in Germany as the school bully and her family. I had been a refugee at eight. My family got asylum and a refugee passport in the year of our flight from Communism, and after five years we were proud citizens of a Western European country.
Bullying voices now louder in the UK
Fast forward 50 years to the UK, where my family subsequently settled in Kent. I never thought to hear bullying voices here telling migrants to go “back to where you come from”. Enoch Powell’s memory had faded in my mind. I considered the country I had made my home over 50 years ago one of the most tolerant and multicultural societies. Had I deluded myself? But increasingly victims of these bullies are speaking about their recent experiences here in the UK.
Bullying ethnic minorities
Of course, ethnic minority communities have been faced with this type of harassment for decades. Racism is sadly an everyday occurrence for many black people. My former husband who is of Jamaican origin used to be stopped several times a day for no obvious reason.
The stop and search was triggered whether he drove his posh car or his scruffy company van with building materials. He tells me this happens less now, as the local police know him and don’t assume that he is a drug dealer in his expensive car or has stolen it.
Now victims from the EU are told to go back to where they come from as well
Reports indicate that racial attacks have increased considerably in the last few years. The people experiencing violence now include Europeans for speaking their native language in the street or on public transport. My German foster son was shouted at when he walked my dogs in the local park. The stranger swore at him and said he recognised the dogs. He said my son should go home to where he comes from and take his foreign mother with him. We didn’t bother to report the incident but my foster son found it extremely upsetting.
Will other members of my family be told to “go back to where you come from”?
My brother’s elder daughter came to the UK from Vienna in order to study in London. She met her present partner while working in a pub at weekends and decided to settle down here. She has an Austrian passport and has been given so-called settled status. Her six year old daughter has dual nationality. However, my niece has decided to move back to Austria as soon as school breaks up in July. She simply does not feel comfortable living in England any longer.
Dual citizens and multilingual identities
Another relative, my cousin, and his wife and three young boys are dual EU and UK citizens. The two younger sons became British at birth, since the parents had lived and worked in this country for eight years when they were born. The parents had permanent residency but had to apply for British citizenship for themselves and their eldest son who was born a year before he would have qualified for the much desired citizenship.
The parents are both working hard and have integrated into life in cosmopolitan multicultural West London. Apart from a yearly visit to their parents, the children’s grandparents, they don’t plan to leave the UK. They have made great friends, the children speak two languages and they consider the UK their home.
They speak Hungarian amongst themselves to ensure the boys can communicate with grandparents who speak no English. The children attend local schools and nurseries and have English and Hungarian friends. Up to now they have not experienced any unpleasant attitudes yet as they live in Fulham, in a friendly, diverse community. Reports of racism in other parts of England are worrying and I would hate the children to be exposed to animosity due to their multilingualism.
Bullies will make me a refugee again
One of the reasons my cousin came to the UK from Orbán’s Hungary was because I lived here and had waxed lyrical about the UK. When I told them last year that I was planning to leave the country next year they were flabbergasted. “ Why?” They asked. Because, like lots of other people described in the book ‘In Limbo’ about EU citizens’ experiences in the EU, this does not feel like my home any longer.
Bigots, xenophobes, racists, and unpleasantly nationalistic people have been emboldened to voice their hatred and anger. And neither the media nor the government are taking steps to address this hostile environment. In fact, new immigration laws are making it more difficult for people from Europe to come to the UK. It was reported that a young woman was actually arrested and detained when she came for a job interview.
In Brexit Britain, it seems, the bullies can pick on anyone different from the average, white British born Tory voter. I am very sad to see the change from the multi-ethnic, tolerant society that I settled in. But the UK will not be the same again unless the checks and balances on extreme right views, fake news, incitement to hate, are made to work, so that the bullies are silenced and shamed.
I cannot wait decades for the UK to recover. So, at the ripe old age of 73, when Covid restrictions are lifted, I will leave the UK. I will be a refugee again. Looking for a little corner in the world to make my new sanctuary.