Polish immigrants keep wary eye on Brexit campaign

As the campaign has become ever more heated, respondents to the survey by Polish polling group IBRiS said they had mostly negative emotions ahead of the vote.

London: With all the talk about European workers in the campaign ahead of Britain`s EU membership referendum on Thursday, many Poles living in the UK are concerned about what the future holds.

The Polish community is estimated at 790,000 people, making up the largest number of about three million EU citizens living in Britain who have become a key rallying point for the anti-EU cause.

Paulina Coll, co-owner of a Polish restaurant in London with her Canadian husband, said the "Leave" camp in favour of Brexit have appealed to the "very basic instinct of the tribe", with its call for a clampdown on immigration.

"I`m afraid that lots of the damage in my opinion has already been done, because lots of people have been made to feel unwelcome here," the 38-year-old said in an interview at her bustling restaurant.

She is not alone according to a survey of Poles living in Britain released on Sunday, which pointed to widespread unease among a large section of the population that polling had not previously captured.

As the campaign has become ever more heated, respondents to the survey by Polish polling group IBRiS said they had mostly negative emotions ahead of the vote -- 11 percent feel fear and 62 percent uncertainty.

It also found that 39.2 percent of respondents were concerned about a potential increase in negative attitudes towards immigrants following a vote in favour of Britain leaving the European Union.

While 72.7 percent feel personally accepted in Britain, 34.6 percent said they think Poles as a national group are much less welcome.Coll said she moved to Britain even before Poland joined the European Union in 2004.

"I came to the UK 16 years ago, absolutely fell in love with the city of London, with the English language, the culture, I felt extremely welcome here, and what was supposed to be my original two week vacation turned into 16 years," Coll said.

Originally from Ostrow Wielkopolski in central Poland, she now co-owns the Mamuska! Polish bar in Elephant and Castle, a multicultural part of London.

After taking British citizenship in 2006, she said she was keen to exercise her right to vote.

"The tourism, the culture, the economy, it all benefited from the fact that we are very welcoming to everybody. It also benefited from the fact that we`ve got more people, young people, coming here, wanting to work and pay taxes, so that is why I will be voting to stay" in the EU, she said.

"I would definitely want my children to grow up in a multicultural, cosmopolitan environment. And if that`s not going to be possible in Britain then we will have to think of the next steps," she said.

Brexit supporters blame an influx of EU workers for putting pressure on public services and wages for Britons and say Britain has no way of controlling numbers if it stays in the European Union.

Prime Minister David Cameron, who is leading the "Remain" campaign, says his welfare reforms will limit some immigration and credits the economic benefits of Europeans working, for example, for Britain`s state-run National Health Service (NHS).As revealed by the survey, not all Poles agree with Coll about remaining in the European Union.

Bartek Kornata, a 23-year-old carpenter from Warsaw, who arrived in London three years ago, said he was as enthusiastic as Coll about life in Britain but said he would vote to leave the EU, if he could.

The only non-British EU citizens allowed to vote in Thursday`s referendum are Irish nationals and passport holders from Cyprus and Malta as Commonwealth members.

He said he believes having "full control" over who is allowed into the country would be a good thing.

"Invite what you like to live with, what you need, and keep away those who just want to come for the benefits or have a free ride," he said.

"Remain" supporters have raised the question of whether EU citizens already in Britain would face the prospect of deportation -- roundly dismissed by the "Leave" campaign as scaremongering.

Kornata said the reputation of Polish workmen had helped him find work, with prospective clients trusting he would do a high-quality job, and this boded well for his chances of staying in case of Brexit.

"I`m pretty sure that the people who work here, that are established, have their companies, pay taxes and everything, we are good, we are fine, we will stay... I hope."


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