In-depth | Migration

Kosovars in UK feeling ‘Brexit’ effect

By - 01.07.2016

Mixed reactions following shock referendum result.

Last week’s ‘Brexit’ referendum result sent shockwaves across the globe. On June 26, the citizens of the United Kingdom voted by 52 percent to 48 percent to leave the European Union, a decision that has left many unanswered questions surrounding the future of the country and the Union itself.

As the UK struggles to cope with the political, economic and societal fallout, K2.0 spoke to a handful of the estimated 30,000 Kosovars living in the UK — most of whom migrated during the 1990s — to see how they feel they will be impacted by the unexpected referendum result.

Uncertainty everywhere

Though the UK’s withdrawal from the EU now seems inevitable, Article 50 — governing the formal withdrawal process — is yet to be triggered amongst uncertainty and confusion about what happens next.

“Since last week the prime minister [David Cameron] has resigned and the opposition leader [Jeremy Corbyn] lost a vote of confidence — that has added to the feelings of uncertainty for us all,” said Adelina Toplica-Badivuku, a deputy service manager for her local government’s children’s services, who lives in London and received British citizenship in 2000. “The current climate in the UK is very tense. Uncertainty, fear, and anxiety about what the future will look like seem to be the main topics of conversation between people.”

The mother of two, and strong supporter of the UK remaining in the EU, described how the wholesale changes in the country’s political leadership following the referendum result is only adding to the feeling of stress. “The idea of [leading “Leave” campaigner and former Mayor of London] Boris Johnson becoming prime minister is appalling,” she said. The day after Toplica-Badivuku spoke to K2.0, previous frontrunner Johnson ruled himself out of the race to replace Cameron as the Conservative party’s leader and British prime minister, a development that only serves to highlight the current volatility of British politics.

Toplica-Badivuku does not idealize the EU and knows that it is “not perfect.” However, she also believes that the Union helps “keep our government in check and ensures certain rights — workers rights, discrimination laws, gender equality — are protected.” She added that “the thought of being isolated concerns me, and the idea of living on this island led by a Tory [Conservative party] government is terrifying.”

After the result of the referendum became clear, the sterling [currency] plunged to its lowest levels in the last three decades, though its value has made something of a recovery since. Leading economists are however warning that the UK’s economy is likely to remain volatile in the short to medium term.

Muhamet Salihu, a single 32-year-old working in the catering sector in London, told K2.0 that he is afraid that the value of the pound may affect his annual visits to Kosovo and is fearful of the economic consequences of the impending Brexit. “I think in the next few months our pockets will be damaged as immigrants travelling to Kosovo during the summer holidays, as UK sterling will be worth less than before,” he said. Salihu has permanent residence status in the UK, but not citizenship, and was therefore excluded from voting in the referendum.

The pound’s drop in value has also worried Toplica-Badivuku who said that her family’s “plans for the summer holidays have been affected.”

Lorik Çela is married with two children and is working and living in Leeds as a head auditor at supermarket chain LIDL. The 42-year-old Çela voted to remain and sees no future in the UK after this result. He told K2.0 that he is so shocked by the result of the referendum that he plans to leave the country once Britain’s withdrawal from the EU is confirmed. “I do not want to be part of the UK post-Brexit as part of my family are Austrians, and we as a family are primarily Europeans,” he said.

Besa Gashi is a 26-year-old student and sales assistant from Glasgow in Scotland. She, along with 62 per cent of people in Scotland, voted to remain. Like Toplica-Badivuku Gashi is “shocked at how the UK government seems unprepared for what to do now that the UK has voted to leave the E.U.” However unlike Çela, Gashi is still determined to remain living in the UK, despite her concerns.

A deeply divided society

One of the key debates leading up to the referendum was the issue of immigration, with the right wing populist UK Independence Party in particular leading a hostile campaign towards immigrants and refugees. Kreshnik Hoxha, a 28-year-old research and development scientist in the pharmaceutical industry, living in East Yorkshire, told K2.0 that the nature of the campaigns were not in keeping with the “true British liberties” that he had come to know. “The level of scaremongering, personal attacks, and intolerance towards opposition views has transformed British politics in Westminster, but has also left the country deeply divided,” he said. “It was a Balkan style campaign.”

The issue of migration is a particularly sensitive one for Kosovars, with such a significant portion of the population having themselves been forced to migrate in recent times. British Kosovars mainly migrated to the UK at the beginning of 1990’s due to segregation and suppression by Slobodan Milosevic’s regime. Another influx came after hundreds of thousands of Kosovar Albanians were driven out of Kosovo during the 1998-99 war. According to data from the Information Centre about Asylum and Refugees (ICAR), more than 4,000 refugees from Kosovo were received in the UK during the war alone, with many choosing to remain and become British citizens.

Whilst Gashi voted for Britain to remain in the European Union, she is critical of the campaign that backed it. “The remain campaign did not show how immigration into the UK will be handled, [or] how the UK economy can improve in the future,” she told K2.0.

In the days following the referendum there have been reports of anincreased number of hostile incidents involving migrants. All of the interviewees speaking to K2.0 had heard about this reported phenomena. None had been targeted themselves however, though Hoxha spoke of “a very dear British Kenyan friend of mine [who] has experienced increasing racism on the streets of London, which is very concerning and demoralising.”

“I do not believe that everyone who voted to leave is racist,” said Salihu. “One of my best friends voted out and I know he is not. But, I would say that all racist and xenophobic people voted to leave.”

Resilience required

No one seems to really know what it going to happen next. The real effects of the seemingly impending Brexit can barely be envisaged, with “Leave” campaigners appearing to have no plan in place to implement the decision and the power vacuum at the heart of British politics only increasing. But despite the current uncertainty, most of the Kosovars living in the UK that K2.0 spoke to seemed determined to put a brave face on the new reality.

“I believe that once the dust has settled … the true British civil liberties will resurface again, whether Brexit materialises or not,” said Hoxha.

Twenty-three year old student Arta Vala, who has been a British citizen since 2004, told K2.0 that the results of the referendum hadn’t changed her plans to remain in the UK and finish her medical education. “I have faith that the government can get the situation under control,” she said.

Toplica-Badivuku was even more resolute, noting that come what may, she will not leave. “The UK is my adoptive motherland,” she said. “Whether in the EU or not — I am here to stay.” K