It’s not every day that one gets invited to talk at the European Parliament. So
it was an incredible honour when we found out our petition had been
accepted. It’s about issues migrants and refugees will face after Brexit, and it
was one of several at a special hearing about the impact of Brexit on citizens’
Three members of Haringey Welcome – founding members Lara Parmiani
and Lucy Nabijou, and long-time friend and supporter of the group Majed
Hassan – set off to Brussels on Tuesday 1st of October, and on Wednesday
morning they were ready for a very busy day!
During the week, a lot of cross-party input from MEPs had been planned for
Commissioners’ hearings focused on migration, asylum and solidarity. London
MEP Claude Moraes had played a leading role. Our session with the
Committee on Petitions, the public-facing part of the European Parliament,
was a small contribution to this collaborative work.
In the morning we had meetings with London MEPs Scott Ainslie (Green) and
Seb Dance (Labour), and we later met with London’s three Liberal Democrat
MEPs: Luisa Porritt, Irina von Wiese, and Dinesh Dhamija.
The petition committee session started with an “exchange of views” with
members from the EU Brexit Steering Group. Guy Verhofstadt (MEP and
Chair of the group) gave a detailed summary of the issues facing migrants in
both a deal or no deal scenario. He stressed the importance of having not
only safeguards in place, but also a system to implement them that is free,
easy, and accessible. The discussion was focused on the moral imperative for
citizens’ rights to be ringfenced, and the anguish and harm done by allowing
citizens to be used as bargaining chips.
The session itself was at the same time sobering, sad and emotional.
From securing rights for EU citizens living in the UK forced to navigate pre-
settled and settled status, to the rights of UK citizens in the EU post-Brexit, to
the rights of vulnerable minors, asylum seekers, and refugees, we were
deeply moved by the strength of the sentiments other petitioners expressed. It
was clear how personal the issues were to most of the petitioners, some of
them MEPs with strong ties to the UK, who felt their lives and sense of identity
had been deeply challenged. We heard emotional testimonies not only from
fellow petitioners but also SNP MEP Christian Allard, a French national
married to a Scot, and Labour MEP Jude Kirton-Darling who talked about her own experience as a Briton married to a Belgian citizen. Both were at times
close to tears.
Lucy read out a statement introducing our petition on protection of the
fundamental rights of migrants and refugees in light of Brexit. She pointed out
that the British Government’s Hostile Environment policies had already
caused untold suffering, notably with the Windrush scandal, and that Brexit
would extend these pernicious policies to impact on the lives of many EU
migrants in the coming years. She also raised the Government’s stated
refusal to reunite refugees with relatives in the UK post-Brexit and asked the
Parliament to take action to call for continued family reunions and for safe visa
Together with the other Brexit petitions, ours has been submitted to
committees on Constitutional Affairs; Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs;
the Brexit Steering Group; and the European Commission and Council. It will
remain ‘open’ and we can submit further evidence in future.
Despite the warm reception with which all our petitions were met, it of course
remains unclear what power and influence the European Parliament will have
at this late stage to avert the many concerns that were raised for the rights of
refugees, migrants, and citizens post-Brexit. We hope our delegation has
made a small bit of difference.