The morning the result of the Brexit referendum was announced, emotions were running high at my daughters’ school gates.
The Polish mother of Daughter Two’s best friend wept as she told a group of us how her son, age 6, had asked at breakfast whether England would change its mind if he said sorry.
A little over a year later, the fate of our European residents remains unsure. Theresa May’s latest proposals were described by the European Parliament’s chief negotiator as a ‘damp squib,’ creating new red tape and ongoing uncertainty for millions. What we can be certain of is that we are not even close to final agreement.
As high level wrangling rumbles on, individual lives are under huge pressure. Recently I caught a snippet of an interview on Radio 4 with Elena Remigi, the editor of a new book, In Limbo: Brexit testimonies from EU citizens in the UK. ‘The leitmotif running through all the stories,’ she said, ‘is the question “Where is my home now? Am I still welcome here or is my home the country I left all those years ago?”’
There are few questions more profound than ‘where is my home?’ The French mystic and activist Simone Weil wrote in 1943, ‘To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognised need of the human soul.’ Whatever else the Brexit vote means, for European nationals who trustingly embedded their roots in our soil, it means the ground is no longer firm beneath them.
As our friends, neighbours, and colleagues live through this upheaval we might feel helpless and inadequate, but there are ways we can offer support. Here are five:
- We can take time to listen to their stories. Telling our stories breaks down feelings of isolation and gives others a glimpse into our reality.
- We can communicate a loving welcome to counteract the messages of rejection coming from some quarters.
- We can pray, both for those caught up in the fray and for those responsible for policy decisions.
- We can add our voice to the debate, putting pressure on politicians when they are in danger of forgetting the human faces behind the negotiations.
- We can make our churches, our houses, our workplaces. and our communities places of safety and belonging and in so doing, point people to the God who offers all who seek him an eternal home.
Jo is the author of ‘Home: the quest to belong’ (Hodder & Stoughton). She grew up in Portugal and France, and currently lives in London with her American husband and their two daughters.