EU Referendum: ‘I am a skilled Leeds worker, but I will quit UK if you Brexit’

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The last census revealed that more than 20,000 people who were born in EU countries other than the UK call Leeds home.

More recent figures, compiled by Migration Yorkshire last year, show that the flow of families from our European Union neighbours has been continuing steadily, with fluctuations in the groups arriving from different countries.

Figures for those returning to their home countries were not available.

Last year, there were 1,441 new arrivals from Romania, up 356 on the previous year.

New migrants from Poland numbered 1,167, 22 less than the year before. The third highest incoming group was from India, with Spain and Italy completing the top five.

For many Leeds families from the EU, the ‘leave’ or ‘remain’ debate has led to uncertainty and, in some cases, increasing unease.

Kristina Assmann Gramberg, who works in international relations, is one of those who is feeling the strain of the debate. She has lived in Leeds for four years, having initially arrived from her native Germany to study at the University of Leeds. She won’t be eligible to vote tomorrow, but says she wouldn’t want to, even if she could.

“I find it really upsetting to think about tearing this continent apart – this continent that has worked for 70 years now on being more friendly with each other.

“That a country puts itself behind this idea of leaving the EU, when it’s not even been 100 years since the Great War in Europe, which could have been avoided if there was more co-operation between countries. “There are so many good points about the EU that are downplayed for other silly ideas,” she added.

“Whatever the decision, it will concern the whole of Europe, not just Britain.

“I recently had a discussion [with a leave campaigner] and they said ‘you are welcome, because you are one of the success stories’, but they then said that as I speak Spanish I could go to Spain or Latin America! So, showing me the door, but at the same time telling me I was welcome!

“Leeds will still be welcoming if Britain were to leave the EU, because people in Yorkshire are very welcoming. But I am not willing to stay if you leave the EU because, for me, that’s very important and I will not feel welcome after that.”

Even among Leeds’s EU expats though, opinion is divided about some of the core issues guiding the Brexit debate.

Allesandra Carraro is Italian and moved to Leeds with her husband, who works for the University of Leeds, three years ago.

She said: “English people didn’t want to be part of the euro currency and maybe it was a good thing for Britain because we had a lot of problems with it in Italy.

“But I do think it would be weird for the UK to be separated from the EU.

“There are similar movements in Italy about closing our borders. But I think we like being part of something bigger.”

Patrycya Swerczyosko, a working mum originally from Poland, understands widesperad concerns about the strain on services like the welfare system from inward EU migration to the UK.

“I have lived here for about eight years,” she said.

“People who are not from England work the hardest because they have barriers and they want to show that they are hard workers.

“When people talk about [welfare] benefits, it does make me angry sometimes.

“But I agree there should be limits. If a family lives here, and the child is here, they can apply for benefits, but not if the parents are here and the children abroad.”

Maya Srengelia is originally from Georgia, which is not part of the EU but gets support from it.

“I am foreign myself and have been here for 12 years, but even I get angry sometimes about some European people coming here, not working and making a mess!” she said.

“It means all foreigners get the same image, that we are all the same.

“But when I think of the safety reasons, I think it will be much better if we stay together.”

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