"I came here with a suitcase full of hope"

28 July 2017

This story was sent to us by Joan Pons Laplana, a Spanish citizen who lives in the UK. 

"I came to the UK 17 years ago to pursue my dream of becoming a nurse. I landed in Luton on Bonfire Night with just £50 in my pocket and a suitcase full of hope.

I have been a nurse for nearly 20 years but it’s only been in the last 4 years that I managed to make a difference. In the space of 4 years I went from being unemployable to being shortlisted as Nurse of The Year in 2016.

But now all my career and hard work has been threatened by uncertainty. Since Brexit my life is on hold and my future and the future of my family is unknown. I am one of the 3 million EU citizens who live in this country, but I feel that the government is treating us as a bargaining chip at the Brexit table.

I have never had any problem or felt discriminated against, but since Brexit, I’ve started to feel like a second class citizen just because of my accent. I have been attacked on social media and what makes me even angrier is that my kids are being affected.

A year ago my 14 years old son asked me if I was going to be forced to go back to Spain if Brexit goes ahead and a year on I still have no answer. My daughter, aged 11, came home crying from school the other day and when I asked her why she told me that another child told her that I was not welcome in the UK and that I would be thrown out very soon. My daughter was heartbroken and asked me if that was true. I could not in all honesty say no!

Is it right that my daughter doesn’t want to go on holidays to Spain this year to see her grandparents because she fears I will not be able to come back? For how long must our lives and futures be on hold? The current situation is unacceptable. We are people with feelings, not ‘negotiating capital’. The UK is our home and the government must guarantee the rights of EU nationals in the UK immediately and not, as it has been hinted, at some distant point in the future.

Vague assurances are not enough. Our lives have been put in limbo since Brexit. We came to the UK in good faith and we have made our home and our lives here. We contribute on every level and in every sector of British society. Many EU nationals are already severely affected by the current Home Office stance and families are being torn apart.

But what worries me is that now lots of EU nurses and doctors are starting to leave. The NHS is at a breaking point. In 2012 the government issued a staffing guidance stating that Nurse-patient ratio should not be greater than 1/8. For the first time in history there are more nurses leaving the profession than joining it. When this country is so short of nurses, we cannot afford to put people off in this way. Around 140,000 EU citizens work in our health and care service and you are more likely to find yourself cared for by a migrant than to find one queuing for benefits.

We are facing an uncertain and bleak future in the wake of the referendum result and the anguish and ongoing stress that this is causing to individuals and families is immense. Unless the government change the tune and put an end to the uncertainty more and more Europeans will leave and that will put in peril the NHS. But I am afraid that after 15 months of uncertainty the damage done is irreparable.

Diversity is what makes Britain so special, what has made Britain great. As Jo Cox once said - we have more things in common than that which divides us."

Do you think the North East needs its own voice in the EU exit negotiations?

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