Padlocked: a European life in limbo

A red case ready packed

I don’t think I have ever felt the way I feel right now. I have a new job. It’s very exciting.

My boyfriend is moving in. We brought his bass amp a couple of weeks ago, that’s a big one. We brought his jeans and t-shirts all nicely folded in my red Samsonite suitcase, the very same one in which I brought my belongings to the UK in 2005. It’s funny I still have it and it’s funny how it would never cross my mind, how its story was going to unfold.

Warsaw-Stansted-Lowestoft-London-Edinburgh. I brought my books in it all the way up from Lowestoft in East Anglia to Scotland. ‘Good heavens, what do you have inside, hen? Hubby’s body?’ the National Express driver asked when I couldn’t lift it up at the Victoria Bus Station.

It’s scratched here and there, and missing some zips, but it’s still the same reliable suitcase. We managed to fit a lot in. I should really be happy, and I am, but every now and then, insomnia creeps back in. And I know that this is because I’ve been in a limbo for such a long time, it has screwed my sense of reality. Sometimes I’m optimistic and fine, sometimes I’m paranoid. Sometimes I’m both. Things seem to be changing every day but one thing that’s unchanged is the state of limbo.

It’s a little bit embarrassing to admit that there are nights when I wake up trembling because ‘they can deport me’. Despite mainstream media’s best efforts at scaremongering, I know they can’t, and I know they won’t, and I know I’m doing everything right to secure my status.

Done and dusted – or is it?

I posted my application for permanent residency a few days ago, and unfollowed all the helpful groups on Facebook, because I don’t want to know there’s a document I forgot to include, or something I should have addressed and didn’t know. I studied Home Office guidelines for a good six months and every time I discovered something new. So I don’t want to know I could have done something better. Done and dusted, let’s now wait and see. I don’t want to worry. But I do.

It’s easy to tell me not to. I keep telling myself: don’t be daft, Kasia. But I kept telling myself the same thing for the good part of 2016, and then 23rd June happened. And all the months of ‘I wish I could guarantee EU citizen’s rights, but I can’t bullshit. I do not believe this government wants to.

There are evenings when I hold on to my boyfriend to make sure he never lets me go. ‘Don’t let them send me away,’ I said in a particularly dark moment. He keeps proposing. Ever since the morning of 24th June, he keeps telling me he’ll marry me. I love him. He’s a rebel. He cuddles me in his sleep so tight I can’t breathe sometimes.

But the problem is, it doesn’t make a difference to the Home Office. Whether we’re married, whether we have kids, whether we share a mortgage, a flat, a bank account, the ownership of the cat. It doesn’t. At the moment, the only route available for me to chase away the nightmares, even if only partially, is to get a confirmation that I’ve been exercising my treaty rights for at least the last five years. Without it I can’t apply for citizenship. It has nothing to do with tying the knot. It has nothing to do with any ties I’ve created with the UK. The Home Office case worker doesn’t care whom I love and who loves me. If you think of all the unattached people who have been exercising their treaty rights – it couldn’t be fairer.

Is Poland home more than Edinburgh?

The question the soulless form asks though is what ties I still have with the country I come from. ‘Family, friends, cultural’ are the suggestions. Home Office does not care if I have the same ties with this country. No. Are they trying to prove Poland is home more than the UK is? It makes me paranoid.

I mean, of course Poland is home. I feel at home every time I go to visit. Does it make Edinburgh less home? At the end of the day, I do not come back to Poland every time I visit. But I come back to Edinburgh every time I fly out of Balice and fly west. ‘Do you go back often?’ is the standard small talk question (one of many difficult ones), that I get asked over and over again.

But I don’t ‘go back’. There’s no ‘back’. There’s here and there, and here is definitely in Scotland. There’s also everywhere else, the world, or ‘nowhere’ as some would rather have it. And yet, Poland is still home, all the places all over the country I love and miss. Places I don’t want to go back to, places I don’t want to live in. I want to live here, in this windy and wet part of the island, where people speak with the most beautiful accents on Earth. Where I’ve been promised to be married, and Anne Frank’ed if needs be. Fed steak and gluten free muffins.

My family’s here. My extended urban family, which I can always count on, and my little Scottish family, who adopted me and embraced me on the day I felt let down. Why would I ever want to give it up? Why would anyone have the right to tell me to ‘go back’? As if they were telling me I should travel back in time to 2005 and decide I wasn’t going after all. Nah, thanks, don’t want the adventure, don’t want the job. One day in 2016 I’ll wake up feeling unwelcome, it’s not worth it.

As if it was that difficult to understand, that what makes me me, is not where I was born alone. What makes me me is the sum of all my life experiences, here and there, and everywhere else. You ask for my nationality? I’ll always be Polish. You ask which country I’m a citizen of. Poland. For now. I can be a citizen of many. I can be a citizen of everywhere. You ask about my identity? ‘You’re Polish Scottish’ one patron at Brass Monkey Leith once suggested. Yes, I am. Poland is where I was born, Scotland is where I want to be. So, when you tell me to ‘go back’, you tell me to do what exactly, tear out a part of me?

Second class citizen

When I’m calm I realise that the thing I’m really scared of is not deportation, or being made to jump through hoops (or rings of fire, more like), nor the shattered sense of identity. It’s the discrimination, it’s the forever feeling of being a second class citizen. It’s being told I don’t belong, even though I belong. I’m scared of my boyfriend having to listen to comments about his immigrant girlfriend. I’m scared of people talking me down behind my back and smiling to my face. I’m scared of being the leper, ‘Stefcia Rudecka’.

I’m scared one day I’ll have to face a Leave voter (in real life, not online) and stand my ground. But how can I? I wasn’t even allowed to cast a vote. A vote that has changed my present and future. That has put me in a limbo that I’ve been in for over six months now. What arguments do I have against ‘you’ve stolen our job’, ‘you’ve driven the wages down’, ‘you’ve put the NHS under pressure’, ‘you can’t even speak proper English’, ‘you don’t respect our ways’ and all that. What do I respond to ‘unelected European technocrats’, ‘we pay more than we get back’, ‘we wanted the control of our law’? How do I start explaining the ease of work and travel, Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, EU subsidies and Erasmus? Horizon 2020 and European research consortia?

I’m more likely to just break down and refuse to look them in the face, because I might not be able to hold back the tears.

Somebody recently asked the 3 million Facebook forum whether there was anyone whose partner voted to Leave. Partner. The person you share your life with voted against the arrangement that brought you to their country. Can anyone be even more hypocritical? Yet, there were people who answered: I love them, what can I do? We have kids.

Throw away the key

My boyfriend is more likely to stand up for me than I am to stand up for myself. He manoeuvres so smoothly between being furious with the British sense of grandiosity and being proud about the Scottish welcoming and accepting nature. He keeps explaining Scottish humour to me, for the fear someone will unwittingly make me upset, when they are trying to make me feel ‘one of us’.

So, every time I can’t sleep at night, I listen to his breath and it calms me down. I also think of all the people who (perhaps for all their own political or not, reasons) have stood up for us, the EU nationals. My MSP Ash Denham who sent me a letter saying I was still welcome in Scotland after the referendum (she’s only three years older than me). The First Minister of Scotland who told her aide that she couldn’t leave until I and my two friends told her about our concerns. Nick Clegg, too, for what it’s worth. The Mayor of London. The 3 Million’s Nicolas Hatton who said in answer to the members of the Brexit select committee (they queried why he’s asking the UK government to guarantee his rights): ‘Because this is my government’. All the immigration lawyers who give their help on Facebook free of charge.

But every now and then, fear creeps in and I just can’t stop it. All I can do – and all I’ve been trying to do is to get all those frightening thoughts and pack them up in my head, put them in the biggest mental suitcase I can find and zip them up, put a padlock on them – and throw away the key. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it really does.

Kasia Kokowska standing beside Nicola Sturgeon


This personal account first appeared on the author’s blog and is published here with her permission. 


  1. Fearful for the future says

    Wonderful article, my son and his future wife are in the same boat, they were going to have a wonderful life in the UK, but with the uncertainty it is now horrible. I love them both and no matter where they stay, I will support them, but I fear for them.
    As a Scot living in London I have felt the racism that is creeping in, being told get your “bagpipes” and go back to Scotland and when sitting speaking Gaelic to a friend I was told “bloody pole get back to your own country.”
    Ignorance of what the future holdS is fearful.

  2. Victor Cavin says

    Heartbreaking and totally understandable to be in the state you’re in.
    I only hope Scots rise up and be a nation again that stood against the pride and arrogance of the British state in their grandiosity and self serving right wing nationalist way and kick them out of Scottish life for good.
    Then perhaps the truth about the divergent nature of Scottish inclusivity and social justice quest will be laid bare to the ignorance and bigotry of the Brexit bunch.
    Good luck and I know you’ll be safe in Scotland’s hands. Like I am assured my place here in Sweden thanks to an honourable nation of like minded socially just open minded and tolerant people.

  3. Domenico Marino says

    Kasia, thank you for sharing your personal experience as a result of this mess which has been brought upon all of us. I moved to the UK in 2012 (to London), and within a week after the referendum, I packed my bags and came to Rome (I am Italian). For me it was perhaps a much easier decision to leave the UK, as many of my good friends already had left, and I had left my previous job in March 2016 and was just starting my own company, which I could do from here. I was also single, which meant that nothing major was tying me down to the UK.

    Well, almost nothing. I still feel robbed of a life which I has worked really hard to build. I still remember the London of 2012 which hosted the Olympics and sent the clear message that the country welcomed foreigners. I remember the time when it was considered an asset to speak 5 languages rather than a limitation because my accent in English wasn’t native to the island on which I lived. Those used to be great memories, and they still are, but there is a certain sting attached to them because I feel that the country has become so nasty over such a short period of time. I had several friends who voted leave, and unfortunately for me, anglo values look at this as “well, we just have to agree to disagree on the EU issue”. But for me, it’s not like that. Some of my friends who were part of my great life in the UK helped to take it from me, and that really hurts. And when I bring this up, it makes me feel like the outsider again.

    So, from someone who made the choice to leave the UK to avoid the fear of being unwelcome, it’s still not easy. I’ll always value my time there, but I don’t think I’ll get over the sting of what happened anytime soon. Hopefully someday soon you and I will both feel welcome again, me as an Italian visitor to London, and you as a Polish-Scot.

  4. says

    My Father’s Family came over from N/ Ireland to Scotland. It was impossible at that time for his family to be safe in N/ Ireland. They could not get Work. They where looked down on in there own Country. They settled in Coatbridge. All worked in the Mines. As coal miners, he lost a very young Uncle . In a Mine Accident. My Father decided to better himself . Education was the key. He did well . But being Irish held him back. Even a British Irish was holding him back. His Surname held him back. Those where the times he lived in. But they worked hard the Irish. They built Roads. Buildings. Railways. But they still did not belong. Now we his Children with our Scottish accents. And different Surnames for his Girls. They choose men with Scottish Surnames. These things happen all the time in different times. There was the Chinese. Italians. Irish. Polish. This is what makes a Country great. America. Was built on the backs of there immigrants. The only real Americans are the Native indigenous Indian. Where are they now. Fighting for there sacred Lands from the Oil pipeline. Stay strong we are all Gods people.

  5. Colin MacRaild says

    Independence is the only answer. We can’t control the behaviour of a country 10 times our size. We have some chance of guiding our own 5 million people in a direction that respects the history of hospitality, I believe we’re known for, around the world. We are an outward looking people. Our association with Europe is a thousand years in the making. We wouldn’t be here if people, like the Poles, hadn’t stood with us, side by side, against the Nazi monster. If we want to be the people we believe we are, we can’t do it without independence.

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