Lewisham steps up help for EU citizens

Over 3,000 EU citizens living in Lewisham have not yet applied for settled status, according to the council.

Mayor Damien Egan and Councillor Kevin Bonavia, Cabinet Member for Democracy, Refugees & Accountability, promised to continue supporting EU citizens in the borough  at an event providing guidance on how to apply for the right to stay in the UK. 

The event, held in the Civic Suite, attracted nearly 150 people, according to the council.  It came just two days before one of the most divisive political issues in Britain’s history finally happened. On the stroke of 11pm on Friday January 31st, Britain left the EU.  This was met with both celebrations and sadness around the country, with crowds converging on Trafalgar Square in London to mark the moment.

Britain has now entered an 11-month transition period with the EU, during which time the government will negotiate agreements with the existing EU countries. The transition period is expected to last until December. In the meantime, nothing much will change for EU citizens. But what happens after that is still uncertain.

Cllr Bonavia said: “Brexit is far from being “done” on 31 January – there is still much uncertainty for EU residents over their future status, so we will do everything possible to support them. Whatever happens with Brexit, Lewisham is their home and we want them to stay.”

According to the council, over 23,000 people from EU countries currently live in the borough of Lewisham. Around 20,000 of those have applied for the EU settlement scheme, receiving two different outcomes: over 10,500 have been granted a settled status and around 6,000 received a pre-settled status. However at least 3,000 people have still not started the application process.

 “I’ve had requests from people about where they need to go and if the council is providing any support. Here at Lewisham Council, we are providing a free verification service for EU residents. But I’m aware of some complicated cases and what I don’t want is a repeat of the awful Windrush scandal affecting may people coming from a Caribbean heritage,” said Cllr Bonavia.

The Home Office website provides instructions on how to apply for the EU settlement scheme. But not everyone finds this simple.

“I don’t have an Android phone and I used someone else’s, and it simply didn’t work,” said Etienne Finzetto, a Lewisham resident.

“You have to take a picture of your passport and then scan it. If you have a chip passport then you just need to run the phone over it and it just didn’t work and I lost my patience and temper,” he added.  

Brexit has been one of the most dramatic periods in the UK’s recent history.

As the transition period unfolds, some EU citizens are still in the dark about how Brexit will affect their lives in a country that they call home.

Reported by Ilaria Cafaro and Melina Havoutis

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