EU nationals living in Scotland should be given official residency cards to formalise the SNP’s commitment to protecting their rights, says a Polish community leader in Dundee.
Wlodzimierz Szepielow, who is the president of the Polish Association in the city, called on Nicola Sturgeon to make the move during a Q&A with hundreds of EU citizens in Edinburgh on Wednesday.
The First Minister repeatedly said during the meeting that she will fight to retain full rights for EU nationals living here, as she slated the UK Government for the “disgraceful” failure to provide assurances about their futures after the Brexit vote.
Mr Szepielow called on her to go further and issue all EU nationals in Scotland with residency cards to reinforce their status here.
“This is something I hope will be more than symbolic but will give proof that the Scottish Government will do everything to protect EU nationals living here,” he told The Courier after the event.
“It would formalise that commitment and would be very welcome.”
He added: “We are being treated like bargaining chips. It’s not fair. We have the right to know something about our future.”
One Italian audience member, Caroline Magoha, said her 13-year-old son had been bullied at school in the build-up to the EU referendum.
She urged politicians not to make EU nationals from the UK the new “refugees of Europe”. She added: “We have to live with our bags half-packed, our feet halfway out of the door.”
Downing Street says it fully expects the legal rights of EU nationals already living here to be protected, but added they need to get assurances over the rights of Brits living in Europe too.
Speaking at the Edinburgh Corn Exchange event, Ms Sturgeon said called for the UK Government – and other EU countries – to make the guarantee immediately. “I think it’s disgraceful that such guarantee has not already been given,” she added.
To applause, she told the audience: “You are not bargaining chips, you are human beings, with families, jobs, friends and lives here.”
But she was on the receiving end of a broadside from a Northern Irish man who said she had failed to clamp down on elements of her party who engage in anti-British rhetoric.
“When are you going to hold an event like this for UK citizens to reassure us that your nationalists will no longer speak division and hatred against us so that we can feel welcome in our homes as well?” he asked.
Ms Sturgeon replied: “I admonish anybody who is anti-anybody on the basis of their nationality, whatever that nationality may be.
“My belief in Scottish independence never has been and never will be based on a sense of where people come from.”
.A UK Government spokesman said: “The Prime Minister has been clear that she wants to protect the status of EU nationals already living here and the only circumstances in which that wouldn’t be possible is if British citizens’ rights in European member states were not protected in return.
“We are consulting with businesses and other stakeholders across Scotland about the impact of leaving the EU. Those discussions are covering a range of issues, including freedom of movement.”
EU nationals whose lives are hanging in limbo
Croatian couple Deyan Hajdukobic and Ivana Lalic were signing the lease on a home in Fife when their futures were thrown into doubt by the shock Brexit vote.
The pair are enjoying their new life in Kirkcaldy, but feel helplessly in limbo because of the lack of assurances from the UK Government about their residency rights.
Deyan, 34, said: “It’s that level of uncertainty that is difficult. We are seven weeks on from the referendum and we are still no clearer about our future here.
“The referendum was happening just as we were moving into a new house and that added a lot of stress. We do not know what will happen to us. It has been like a rollercoaster.”
The couple, who say they have fallen in love with Scottish culture, finally got the keys to their home at the beginning of the month and found one of their neighbours was displaying a Vote Leave logo.
“I think he may have had regrets or guilt about that because he has been very nice to us,” added Deyan, who is due to start a course at Fife College. “He lent us his lawnmower and he had made us very welcome.”
Also at the event was German couple Thomas and Elke Westen, who also live in Kirkcaldy and earlier told BBC Scotland that they had decided to leave the UK as they no longer felt welcome following the Brexit vote.
Mrs Westen said she was being urged to stay in Scotland by her friends, but said she did not want to live in a country where she might have to apply for a work permit and visa to work and live in her own home.