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Shetland’s Europeans: ‘Mixed feelings about EU’

| Written by Contributed

Miguel Oliveira: 'the euro hasn’t really been all that beneficial for us in Portugal' - Photo: Hans J Marter/ShetNews Miguel Oliveira: 'the euro hasn’t really been all that beneficial for us in Portugal' - Photo: Hans J Marter/ShetNews AS early as next summer, British citizens will vote on whether or not they wish the UK to remain a member of the European Union. So how do Europeans living in Shetland feel about the referendum and how it might affect them? Genevieve White went out to speak to two of our many European citizens.

Miguel Oliveira, 28, came to Shetland from his native Portugal in April this year. "I didn't exactly choose to come to Shetland," he admits. "I'd put my name down for a hospitality sector training scheme in Portugal and I had been assigned a job in Wales.

"At the very last minute it fell through and so I was offered a job at the Shetland Hotel instead. I didn't really know much about Shetland, but decided to go for it. I can speak English and I like to travel, so I thought 'Why not'?"

The choice made by Britons could mean the end to such freedom of movement. Yet, Miguel sees the call for a referendum as being "legitimate".

"I think it's something the British people need to decide for themselves, and I can see why there's the need to do so.

"Portugal had a similar situation regarding immigration in 2010: we had an influx of Africans, Moldovans and Ukrainians: in fact they made up about ten percent of our population. When this happens the local population don't feel comfortable," he says.

Miguel believes that Britain needs to think carefully about what is best for the country. "We have the Euro in Portugal and I have to say that this hasn't really been all that beneficial for us. The UK has the right to refuse this currency.

"I think that David Cameron is doing the right thing by asking people what their opinion is on the matter. It's not like in Portugal where we had the Euro imposed on us. British people should be able to decide what is best for them."

39 year old Hungarian Zsofia Varga, say she has "mixed feelings" about the referendum. The mother of six feels that moving to Shetland has been an overwhelmingly positive step for her family and she can see the advantages that Britain's continued membership of the UK offers.

"If the UK stays in the EU then that's good for us because it means that we can come here to work and live."

The decision to leave Hungary was made after Zsofia's family experienced financial difficulties, which almost resulted in the loss of their home. Zsofia's husband, a painter with the Hungarian Painting Team, came to work in Shetland two years ago and was followed over a year later by the rest of the family.

Zsofia was instantly struck by the beauty of the landscape. "I didn't know Shetland before coming here and was surprised by the scenery. In Hungary we don't have any sea, but here it's everywhere!"

Doesn't she miss her homeland though? "Yes, of course I do. But in Hungary we have so many problems. Back home I worked ten hour shifts as a full time nursery teacher and earned just £360 a month. The wages are so low, but the price of food is just as expensive as it is here.

"In Hungary you can work hard all your days but still not be able to afford to take a holiday. Life there is getting more and more difficult."

Zsofia currently stays at home to look after her children (the youngest is still in nursery) and plans to find work as soon as her family situation allows. Her eldest son has left school and is hoping to study town planning at the University of Dundee.

Zsofia feels positive about the opportunities her children will enjoy here and is full of praise for Shetland schools.

"Schools are friendlier here because they allow children to be children. In Hungary my children had no time to play - even in the holidays. It was stressful for them.

"Here, I can see a future for my children. I tell them that if they work hard here their lives will be good. That is not the case in Hungary."

However, Zsofia opinions about next year's referendum are also coloured by what she sees as the negative effects of EU membership on her home country.

"Belonging to the EU hasn't been good for Hungary. Before joining the EU, Hungary had a lot of factories and agriculture. Now we can sell nothing because of regulations. To tell the truth, I think the EU is led by rich people and bankers. It has nothing to offer the ordinary people."

Zsofia is aware that she will not be able to vote in the referendum but sees this as fair. "We are not British people and we are not in our own home. I am a guest here and so I think it's fair if the owners make the decision."

Does she feel she will always be a guest? "I have to bring something to the table. If people accept us, then maybe one day I can feel at home here. But until then, I'm a guest."

Note: The interviews with Miguel and Zsofia were done before the current refugee crisis at Calais.

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