When Pawel Orzechowski heard the result of the UK’s referendum on its membership of the EU, he cried for weeks.

In the end, he decided to stop his morning visits to the local newsagent because he found the front pages of many British newspapers unbearable to read.

The last time he saw them, he sat on the pavement outside the shop and sobbed.

“It’s embarrassing, so I just don’t go to the shops,” he says.

“The mental health impact of Brexit on people from the EU is huge. I know lots of my friends are struggling.”

“It was very painful to be disappointed and realise that my new motherland for which I work and which I really want to support, doesn’t care for me.”


Pawel Orzechowski

Pawel teaches computer coding in Edinburgh, and is one of around 200,000 EU citizens who were living in Scotland at the time of the Brexit referendum in 2016.

More than two years on, European migrants who have stayed in the country say that they have little more information on their uncertain futures than they did on the morning of June 24.

With 50 days to go until the first full day of the UK’s exit from the EU, The Herald has spoken to 50 Europeans about their experience of the last two years in political limbo, and their feelings about life after March 29.

Read more: Brexit voices: How Brexit could stop me adopting a baby

Anouk Berthier, a 30-year-old civil servant, is waiting to take the citizenship test to qualify for a UK passport, but thinks that she may leave the country anyway because she fears Brexit could make Scotland poorer.

She says Britain’s vote to leave is part of its decline in global status.

A French citizen, Anouk grew up in Hong Kong, and says there were “certain aspects of the British Empire” that were familiar to her, including what she calls the “sentiment that the UK is better either leading whatever union it is in, or not in the union at all.”


Anouk Berthier

She’s not alone in worrying about the economy.

Renato Cimmino, originally from Italy, and Antje Karl, from Germany, have both lived in Scotland for more than ten years, and own their own businesses in Glasgow.

Antje, 43, runs a knitting cafe in the West End and says that if Scots suffer financially, producing their own woolly socks over a cup of coffee might be the first thing to be axed from their budgets.

“People are not spending as much on what you would call luxuries,” she says.

“There’s quite a lot of stuff that I can’t get from the UK, and one of my brands comes from Sweden.

“I’m already trying to get some stock in because I have no idea how I’m going to get it after March 29.”

Renato imports many of his restaurant’s ingredients from Italy.

“The price of our goods will probably go up with Brexit. We will need to charge more, and that will have an effect,” he says.

“There are other businesses that buy cheap quality stuff. But you want to buy good quality products and put them on the table: wine, olive oil, salt, flour – the basic things.”

Eighty per cent of his staff are from outside the UK.

One of his waitresses, 27-year-old Iwona Smenda, moved from Poland to Scotland six months ago and lives with her brother in Shettleston, where there is a large Polish community.

“Living here is so much easier than living in Poland,” she says.

“People in Poland are always thinking about the future and saving money. Here, people live day by day and they enjoy their lives.”


Iwona Smenda

Iwona hopes to start a course in web design in September, but has not yet been granted residency in Scotland.

She is worried she will have to leave the country before she can apply.

“I want to stay here. I have always dreamed of living in Great Britain,” she says.

“I had the dream of coming to Britain before Brexit, and then they started talking about Brexit, but they didn’t know how to do it.”

Like Iwona, many living in Scotland are concerned about learning to navigate the government’s system of residency permits and citizenship criteria for living in the UK after Brexit.

Many say that the rules on who can stay are not yet clear.

Residents have until the end of June 2021 to apply for settled status, unless the UK leaves without a deal, in which case the deadline is December 2020.

Angelika Buzun, 27, works for Scotrail and lives close to Iwona with six other Poles. They moved to Scotland before her and she can see that they will find it easier to deal with Brexit.

“They are more secure, and they are applying for UK passports too, so they can be citizens,” she says.

“They would be fully qualified to remain in the UK, which is a bit more secure. Me and my partner have only been here for less than three years.

“When I phoned the council, they said that I can’t apply for my residential status because I haven’t yet been here for five years.


Angelika Buzun

Esther Ballesteros, 32, moved from Spain with her boyfriend, who lectures at the University of the West of Scotland. Like many academics, he worries that Brexit will destroy research funding.

“He has been honest and said that if the situation for him is not a good one, we should move,” she says.

“I have been super happy living here but I moved here because of him.”

“There is a point where things will get more expensive, like basic things in the supermarket or flights.

“I have seen that flights have got more expensive to travel all across Europe.”


Esther Ballesteros

Sonia Raineri, a shop worker from France, also worries about flights.

“The only thing who will affect me personally will be, if the flight price increase to go back to France during my holidays to see my family,” she says.

“I don’t think I have the right to tell if Brexit is a good or a bad thing. I just have to adapt now.”

Her apparent ambivalence puts her in the minority, but despite the prevailing opposition to Brexit among some of Scotland’s European nationals, there is also sympathy for Britain’s vote.


Sonia Raineri

Aldo Muharremi, 29, is from Albania, which has been a candidate for joining the EU since 2014.

“When we say ‘EU’, what we are really saying is Germany and France, and until now, Britain,” he says.

“That’s when you think sometimes that we should get out of it, and run the country ourselves, stop paying money to them, and make life better here.

“In my heart, I think it will be better after we leave the EU.”


Aldo Muharremi

Although Carmen Araujo, a Spanish social worker in Edinburgh, does not support Brexit, she is not as angry with those who voted for it as many other EU citizens.

“On one hand, politically, I can see both sides,” she says.

“You will have people in Spain too who are concerned about immigration. Although I am affected by it, I don’t struggle to understand both sides.” Carmen says she has met very few Brexit supporters in Scotland, where 62 per cent of voters opted to remain.

“I have only met one person who wanted Brexit, and we had a civil conversation about it and I could understand her point of view, but in general I don’t think I have been discussing it much, or have come across people with strong opinions,” she says.

She agrees with many other EU citizens who spoke to the Herald, who say hostility towards migrants after the referendum result is less prevalent in Scotland than elsewhere in the UK.

The result of the referendum has created interesting questions about national and continental identity for Europeans here.


Carmen Araujo

Patricia Cuni, 37, works in digital marketing and has been living in Scotland for five years, since she moved from Spain.

She sees her European migrant identity as indivisible from her position as a successful professional brining undoubted economic benefit to the UK.

“European people like being here, and paying taxes and integrating, and all of a sudden, we become second-class citizens and leeches who are taking advantage of the system, which we are not,” she says.

“One of the things that I hate very much is my friends saying: ‘this is not about you’.

“They say this because I have a good job, a good life and I speak a very decent level of English, and am very involved in the community.

“But they forget I am part of a bigger collective, and we are not what the media told them we are.

“I think there has been a lot of misinformation and lies, and blaming European citizens.”


Patricia Cuni

But regardless of the British voting population’s view of immigrants, what is clear from the 50 interviews conducted to mark those days left in the European Union is that migrants unequivocally love living in Scotland.

Federica Stefani, 26, is Italian but now sells whisky in Edinburgh.

“I really like the environment in Scotland,” she says.

“The people are very welcoming and people try to help me. I have never felt homesick.

“From the very first months, I knew I wanted to stay here. I think Scotland is a lot more diverse and inclusive.”

Her implication is that Scotland is more welcoming than its more pro-Brexit neighbours – especially England.


Federica Stefani

Romy Beard, a publishing consultant from Luxembourg, agrees.

“We lived in England before and noticed a difference,” she says.

“I’ve always found Scotland very welcoming, and I’ve not seen any changes in attitude at all.

“The first time I came to Glasgow, I was walking around in the street with a map and a woman walked up to me and said, ‘can I help you?’

“That wouldn’t happen anywhere else in the world.”


Romy Beard

The 23-year-old Alice Thorsell moved to Scotland from Sweden in 2017, and soon made outward-looking and well-educated European friends here. She describes herself after the referendum result just months before as “crushed and shocked”.

But when she moved to Edinburgh she found that the city rejected Brexit, and accepted her.

“I hardly ever hear any debating, and I can’t recall ever meeting anyone who is openly a Brexit supporter in Edinburgh” she says.

“Through the last year I’ve never met any hostility against me as a Swedish person.

“If anything, I’ve had people saying to me that I shouldn’t worry since I’m Scandinavian, and the UK apparently likes Scandinavian people.

“How does that make me feel? Completely awful.”


Alice Thorsell

Alice’s French friend, Florine Le Moine, says the same.

“I think it might have to do with the fact that I’m a young French woman,” she says.

“Whenever I told people I was French they thought it was charming and were all very welcoming.

“I’ve never been told I’m stealing other people’s jobs.”

A third member of the group, Clement Samzun, came from France to work in hospitality.

He says he has met people “willing to share cultures, communicate and live with each other”.

“I personally work hard here, pay my taxes and live in this country, and I have never suffered any hostility from UK citizens here,” he adds.


Clement Samzun

Olivia Ottervald, who moved to Scotland as a student from Poland, is quicker to identify the characteristics that she feels protect her from anti-immigrant sentiment in the UK.

“No one was suspicious of me but I’m also a white cisgender woman who speaks good English,” she says.

“I did meet a taxi driver, who obviously voted for Brexit, who said I was alright but that they just don’t want more people from Poland to come and take their jobs.

“But that was just once in the Scottish countryside.”


Olivia Ottervald

Elina Dagdelini came to Scotland from Greece to study at Glasgow Caledonian University. Now, seven years later, she has made her home here and works for Environmental Protection Scotland.

Her story is a familiar one.

“The whole situation makes me very anxious, as I don’t know if one day I will be requested to leave my job, home and my circle of friends,” she says.

“It makes me uncertain about my future and I constantly wonder what the next day will bring as Brexit approaches.”


Elina Dagdelini

Ievita Vaitkunaite is 20 years old and from Lithuania. She studies in Glasgow and works as a waitress in her spare time.

She would like to stay in Scotland after Brexit, and many of her friends would, too.

“I know a lot of Lithuanians here, and a I know a lot of international students and Scottish people, and I never felt judged that I was not Scottish.”

But while most say that there has been little hostility since June 2016, some in Scotland have felt stigma towards immigrants far more keenly.


Ievita Vaitkunaite

Carmen Fernandez, 58, moved from Spain seven years ago and works as a cook for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.

She says she avoids speaking Spanish in public because she fears physical assault.

“I sometimes hear comments in the media about people being attacked just for speaking another language,” she says.

“I try to avoid speaking Spanish on the street.

“Just in case – it depends which area I’m in. If I want to phone my family, I prefer to do it in the house. It depends who is around me.”

She especially worries for the future of her son and both of their residency in the UK.

“My son is now 21, and has studied in Scotland,” she says.

“He feels more Scottish than Spanish, but he is in the same position as me, in limbo.

“I always felt very welcome in the UK before, and I don’t feel that welcome any more.”


Fran Cueller, another Spaniard who works in a primary school, also worries about opportunities for the next generation.

“I am a school teacher, so I see that my children will be okay because they have dual nationalities and they will be able to move freely between Europe and here, but I see the children in the school and a lot of them will not have the chance as it seems right now,” he says.

“And I think that’s a great experience in anyone’s life, to travel and meet new people.”


Margarita Bhosale, who moved over from Lithuania before separating from her partner, wonders what the impact of Brexit will be on her children.

She explains: “My children were born here, they speak Scottish. It’s their home, this is where they base their traditions on.

“ I don’t even know what’s going to happen so there’s no point trying to explain it to them.”

In order to avoid hostility in the aftermath of what she sees as an inevitable no-deal Brexit, Lindis Kipp, who has dual German and British citizenship, is stockpiling.

“I have a stockpile of non-perishable foods, nappies and cat litter, tins of beans, fruit and pasta. It’s not because I think we will run out of food so badly and people are going to starve, but Scotland is at the very end of the supply line in Britain.

“I’m trying to avoid going to the supermarket in the first couple of weeks after a no-deal Brexit when it gets really panicky and people start being horrible to each other.”


As well as revealing tension across national borders, some EU citizens reveal more familiar fault lines in the Brexit debate.

Morena Ianzo, 24, has been in Scotland less than a year and has picked up on the sentiment that the older generation were the driving force behind Brexit.

“The older generation doesn’t have a sense of what’s going on any more,” she says.

“They don’t have to live in this country post-Brexit, because judging by the age that voted yes, they’re not all going to be here in 20 years time, probably.

“So it doesn’t really affect them that much – they voted for a country they’re not going to live in. If it’s a hard Brexit, I think it’s going to be hard living here.”

While Nikolett Barra, a 36-year-old financial administrator from Hungary, feels similar resentment towards those who voted to leave.

“Brexit – a word which I laughed at first and now it just makes me shiver,” he says.

“I fail to understand why anyone in their right mind would head towards this much uncertainty.

“Is power more important than the people?”

He captures the frustration of EU citizens who did not a vote in the referendum but feel tied to its consequences.

“For EU citizens Brexit is like being told to sit in the back of a van which is taking you somewhere you didn’t want to go,” he says.

“Would it be such a terrible thing to apply the brake pedal, stop for a second and admit that the GPS coordinates we entered two years ago were wrong?”

For Wojtek Kutyla, who came over from Poland, the benefits of globalisation are indisputable.

“At the time where our planet is in tatters and our world is breaking apart because of all the wars and conflicts, we have to worth together,” he says.

“Further separation is not going to help – that is my view.

“I’m not a historian or politics expert but I know one thing: moving places and working with different people of different nationalities made me a better person.

“I’m learning from people every day.”

Brexit voices


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Are you an EU citizen from outwith the UK living in Scotland who supports Brexit? Let us know. Email tony.diver@newsquest.co.uk