Brexit hate crime and uncertainty leave Brits and EU citizens in limbo | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 15.02.2017
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Brexit hate crime and uncertainty leave Brits and EU citizens in limbo

In the three months following the UK's EU referendum, hate crime sky-rocketed in parts of Britain. For one British-German family in Leipzig, their future remains uncertain on both sides of the English Channel.

Siobhan Corcoran, pictured with her son Fionn in London

Should I stay or should I go? Siobhan Corcoran, pictured with her son Fionn, has lived in Germany with her boyfriend for five years

Left since June's EU referendum in an unforeseen predicament, 25-year-old Brit Siobhan Corcoran is still coming to terms with the shock result of the Brexit vote, which saw 52 percent of eligible voters cast their ballot in favor of leaving the EU.

With UK Prime Minister Theresa May expected to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treatyand begin Brexit negotiations in just a matter of weeks, like millions of other Europeans, Siobhan and her 32-year-old German boyfriend Martin are facing an uncertain future.

It was thanks to the EU-funded Erasmus study program that Remain-voter Siobhan, originally from Cheltenham, England, met Martin in the eastern German city of Leipzig. But five years later, the couple's plans look tenuous, not least of all for their two-and-a-half year-old son, Fionn.

"Before Brexit, I would never have imagined the problems that we're being faced with. Huge, personal, life-changing decisions are being taken out of our hands," she told DW.

"Should we stay? Should we go? Should we get married? Where can we live? Where can we work? All of these questions remain unanswered."

Without any guarantees from the British government, not only is the Child Mental Health student concerned about her career and right to automatically remain in Germany, but also for that of her partner.

"As a software developer, it would usually be quite easy for Martin to find well-paid work in the UK, but we still have no idea what his working rights would be post-Brexit.

When you hear how people who have lived in the UK for decades are being told to return to their home country, it's worrying to think that he could be asked to leave within a couple of years anyway."

Results of a survey published by Brussels and Europe Liberal Democrats on Wednesday showed that Siobhan and Martin aren't alone in their concerns, with most British expatriates in the European Union worried that Brexit will limit their rights in their country of residence.

According to the poll of 5,000 Britons living in EU countries - or Iceland, Norway and Switzerland - around 83 percent of respondents said they were "very concerned" about the impact Britain's impending departure from the EU could have on them. More than 58 percent said they did not plan to return to Britain.

The survey comes just days after British newspaper The Guardian also published details from a leaked government document, warning that British nationals living on the continent could expect a backlash as a consequence of Westminster's treatment of foreigners since the EU referendum.

German and British passports

At least 100,000 Britons live in Germany, while 300,000 Germans live in the UK

The internal document, drawn up by the European parliament's legal affairs committee, says each EU member state will independently decide whether British citizens are allowed to continue living within their respective borders after 2019.

The paper adds, however, that "the fact that it appears to be particularly difficult for foreign nationals, even if married to UK nationals or born in the UK, to acquire permanent residence status or British nationality may color member states' approach to this matter."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn hit out at the document, saying that "families, jobs and homes are all in the balance."

"There must be an end to this Hunger Games approach to Brexit negotiations, which gives no consideration to EU nationals in our country, or British nationals living abroad," Corbyn said.

Watch video 00:37

British lawmakers give green light for Brexit

For the young couple in Leipzig, new reports on Wednesday of a surge in post-Brexit hate crime in the UK have also added to their hesitation in returning to Britain.

Analysis collated by the Press Association found that three quarters of police forces in England and Wales recorded their highest levels of hate crime in the three months after June's vote, since records began in April 2012.

While more than 14,000 hate crimes were recorded between July and September, 2016, 10 forces reported a fifty percent increase in the number of suspected hate crimes, compared to the previous three months.

Police, however, say their own monitoring suggests incidents have leveled out following the summer surge.

Brochure from Conservative party conference

Almost eight months since the EU referendum, questions remain unanswered

Reports of hate crime included letters telling Polish residents to "F*** off to Poland," London diners refusing to be served by foreign waiters, and dog excrement thrown against a German woman's front door.

In one incident in the western English county of Shropshire, a student was smashed with a bottle "because he was speaking Polish." Polish police were also drafted in to patrol the streets of Harlow in Essex alongside British officers after 40-year-old Polish national Arek Jóźwik was killed in what was also believed to be a hate crime.

Flowers were left in memorial to Polish national Arek Jozwik after his death in Harlow, Essex

Flowers were left in memorial to Polish national Arek Jozwik after his death in Harlow, Essex

"It's heart-breaking to think that you might not be able to go back to your home country because of the risk of hate crime and prejudice," Siobhan told DW, adding that there are huge parts of British life that she wants her son to experience by living there.

"Prior to Brexit, never would I have imagined that I, my boyfriend or my son would be treated differently. I'm very lucky in having never personally been targeted by any racism or prejudice, but now I worry that Fionn could face this hate for being a foreigner.

"He's British as much as he's German," she said. "But right now it feels as if he couldn't be both."

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