Summer is not always the best time for a long bike ride but that is no deterrent to Rafal Skarbek, member of the campaign group New Europeans. The UK-based community organiser and father-of-two is setting out from Somerset in South West England, aiming to reach Santiago de Compostela in Galicia by the end of July. On the way back to he has promised to go via Mont Blanc which it has been his lifelong ambition to climb.
The trip is a pilgrimage and will follow the famous El Camino route. Rafal also hopes to use the trip to draw attention to the need for the rights of EU citizens and Britons abroad to be ring-fenced post Brexit. Speaking from his home near Bridgwater just before setting out, he said: “The Green Card for Europe proposal can help EU citizens in the UK and Britons abroad post Brexit because it will give us a physical proof of our status.
This is so important because many of us still face instances of discrimination when looking for employment or somewhere to live simply on the grounds that our status is perceived to be uncertain.
So I will be riding towards Santiago de Compostela thinking very much of #the5million and the challenges we are all facing – it’s #the5million that I will be riding for and who I will feel are egging me on.” Rafal is not new to impromptu long-distance travel. In 1982, his parents escaped from Poland during the martial law era.
Rafal was a child at the time but remembers the experience vividly and it resonates with him today. “Not for the first time I am seeing how the political landscape can change very suddenly and in a way that impacts directly on people’s daily lives. Many EU citizens in the UK no longer feel welcome in their own homes,” he said.
The Camino will take Rafal to Dover and then via Paris to the North of Spain and on to Galicia. Along the way he hopes to meet many different people, local residents in the places he visits but also those who like him who are just passing through. “The beauty of our rights to freedom of movement in Europe are that we can use those rights to study, to work, to settle, to retire in another member state or just to visit, even for an extended period,” he said.
Asked about the British people he may meet along the way, he commented: “I am especially looking forward to meeting British citizens living in France and Spain and exchanging experiences about how they are doing post Brexit.
Freedom of movement is a big issue for Britons abroad and the Green Card can help with that.” During the trip, Rafal is hoping to raise funds which can support the award-winning New Europeans campaign for an EU Green Card.
The proposal was looked at by both the Civil Liberties and Constitutional Affairs Committees of the European parliament prior to the elections and the parliament is expected to return to a discussion of the proposal soon after it reconvenes in Strasbourg on 2 July.
Roger Casale, the Founder and General Secretary of New Europeans said: “We are thrilled that Rafal has chosen our Green Card campaign as the focus for his fund-raising activities as he heads to Santiago de Compostela on what will be an extraordinary journey through Europe.
The protection of the rights of EU citizens already in the UK and Britons living in Europe is one of the very few issues has support on both sides of the channel and from all parties. The Green Card offers a practical way forward to achieve a result that everybody says they want. Rafal’s journey will draw attention to the EU Green Card for Europe campaign and I hope it will hasten the day when we see it introduced.”
For more information on El Camino for a Green Card for Europe, click here.