Despite the anti-immigrant rhetoric coming from the “Leave” campaign, not all British citizens of African decent believe that the UK should remain in the EU.
The eyes of the world are on the UK this week as it heads into its historic referendum to decide whether voters want Britain to leave the European Union (Brexit) or remain a member of the bloc. Among those taking to the polls Thursday are hundreds of thousands of Africans, both British Africans and Commonwealth citizens living in the UK. Around two percent of the country’s population described themselves as black African or mixed African in the last census.
The vote has been described as the decision of a generation and for many voters it’s a tough choice. At a market in the northeast of the city, Londoners from all over the world are buying and selling everything from brightly coloured fabrics to dried fish. Opinions about Brexit are just as varied.
Ian Campbell, a perfume trader, was born in London to Nigerian parents. He finds himself split between the two options because much of his business is linked to European trade.
“As a self-employed person, one side says leave and one side says remain. It’s hard! What’s best for my children?” he asked.
Campbell is one of over half a million British Africans living in London. Around the country there are also hundreds of thousands of Africans eligible to vote because they’re citizens of the Commonwealth, an organisation mostly made up of countries which were formerly part of the British Empire, including 18 African states.
This has angered some people who say only British citizens should be allowed to vote. But it is also something that the euro-sceptic UK Independence Party (UKIP) and the “Leave” campaign have been trying to capitalise on.
“The leader of the UKIP party said that if they are to leave the EU, there will be better chances for those from Commonwealth countries of which I am one,” said Clement Edeh, a 29-year-old Nigerian studying for an MBA in London.
He is, however, not convinced that a Brexit would be good for Commonwealth citizens and has picked up on the racial undertones in some of the anti-immigrant rhetoric coming from UKIP. And because of certain comments from the party which Edeh considered “racist,” he is not leaning toward a Brexit.
Other citizens of African decent are prepared to overlook such undertones in the Leave campaign’s anti-immigration policies. Fifi is a 55-year-old beauty therapist from Liberia who has been in Britain for 25 years. But even as an immigrant herself, she is wary of welcoming too many additional immigrants.
“I’m terrified of all this terrorism,” she said. “I don’t think the government has control over the situation at the moment so I really do not think I will be voting to remain [in the EU].”
But not all British Africans fear an influx of immigrants. Esther Koroma came to the UK from Sierra Leone and appreciates the opportunities she has had as an immigrant in London.
“If God granted me the opportunity to stay, I believe someone else should also have the opportunity,” she said.