Brexit ‘has left EU citizens living in Scotland feeling unwanted and unwelcome’

The Brexit process has had a damaging impact on the mental health and wellbeing of EU citizens living in Scotland, according to a report.

The study suggests that European citizens have been left feeling “unwanted, unwelcome, marked out as different and treated as inferior” since the UK voted to leave the EU in 2016.

It says that the Brexit campaign, the EU referendum and the subsequent political discourse have damaged EU citizens’ wellbeing primarily through undermining their integration into Scottish society.

The study was carried out by Robert Gordon University (RGU) and Feniks – a charity which aims to improve the wellbeing of the Central Eastern European community in Edinburgh.

In its findings, the report also indicated that the uncertainty around Brexit had reduced their ability to visualise their future in Scotland.

And whilst noting that Scotland has a “critical advantage” over the rest of the UK because the country voted to remain in the EU, it outlined that there are still challenges which need to be tackled on national and local levels.

The report was compiled after researchers held discussions with EU citizens across Scotland who had moved to the UK before the 2016 referendum was held.

Some of the key concerns raised included being unable to make informed decisions about the future, such as buying a house or beginning studies.

Others also said they had considered moving outside the UK, but were concerned that they may not be able to return if they did so.

Some Irish participants in the study highlighted their concern around the Irish border and their worry of a repeat of the Troubles.

Piotr Teodorowski, a researcher at RGU involved in the study, said the findings indicate that the perception of the UK as a warm and welcoming country has shifted.

“Many EU citizens now feel unwelcome and rejected, with some reporting experiences of discrimination,” said Mr Teodorowski.

“This, coupled with feelings of being marked out as different, disenfranchised and disempowered, expresses the anxiety felt by EU citizens in Scotland as a result of Brexit.

“The underlying argument we can draw from this research is that the mental health of EU citizens is important, not only in its own right, but as a barometer of integration and cohesion in Scotland.

“We hope these results will help to stimulate debate on how EU citizens in Scotland can be supported and how to enhance cohesion in Scottish society.

“Brexit is still ongoing, and this research has captured EU citizens’ experiences at a specific point in the process.

“There is a need to continue this dialogue and to develop interventions which could support EU citizens’ mental health and wellbeing, and strengthen their integration in the local community.”

The Scottish Government’s Europe Minister Ben Macpherson said: “It is hard to hear that the EU citizens in this study have been left feeling unwanted and unwelcome as a result of Brexit, and because of the UK Government’s policies regarding their residency status and other rights.

“It is clear that the real impact of Brexit is being felt by people on a personal level across the country, and none more so than EU citizens who have done us the honour of making Scotland their home.

“That is why we have launched the Stay in Scotland campaign, to encourage and support EU citizens to stay here. We will continue to do all we can to support EU citizens in Scotland through these uncertain times.

“The health of all citizens is important and if anyone living in Scotland needs help for mental health issues, they should contact their GP or NHS 24 on 111 in the first instance.”