by Anita Graafland
Nervous. That’s what I was. I hadn’t travelled to what had been home for six years in well over 17 months. I’d left the country at the end of February 2020, fully expecting to be back home two weeks later. Instead I’d been caught out by Covid and cancer, and now I was returning to a country I no longer had a right to be in. Would they let me in at all?
So here I was bracing for lots of questions at the border, having brought a sheaf of papers to prove that I wasn’t planning to stay in the country, that I wouldn’t be scrounging off the NHS and that I really didn’t plan to apply for benefits in the UK. I had spoken to quite a few young fellow countrymen, who had had trouble getting in. People in relationships with Brits who, like me, were shocked by the sheer hostility now on display at the border. As it was, this is how it went:
UK Border Control Officer: “Are you going to the UK for a visit?”
Me: “An extended visit, yes.”
“How extended is extended?”
“Two months and seven days precisely.”
[Snort of laughter.]
Me: “Well, I did think you might ask.”
[Another snort of laughter.]
Officer: “Where will you be staying, then?”
Me: “I’ll be self-isolating at a friend’s in London and will then travel on to Cornwall, where I still own a caravan.”
Officer: [Hands back passport.] “OK, that’s good enough for me.”
Afterwards, I was shaking and in tears. All the emotions tied up in Brexit, in having been forced to choose between my country and my young daughter, in having been rejected – or so it felt – by a country, a language and a people I had dedicated my life to, all came flooding out. Yes, I had been allowed back in; yes, I would be seeing my daughter and my friends again; yes, I’d be able to return to the static caravan we had long owned in Cornwall.
But at the same time, I was painfully aware of what I’d lost. The naturalness had gone. I used to go back and forth between our two countries as if I had two homes in two places in my own country. My late husband and daughter lived in Cornwall and I travelled back and forth between them and Amsterdam, where I was running my business. Nobody bat an eye, nobody asked any questions. But now I was only allowed to call one country home. And the other a place I may only visit, at the discretion of the UK Border Force.