Caroline Magoha took the microphone at a gathering of more than 300 EU citizens living in Scotland to describe how her son, Emanuele, 13, suffered a “very bad time” after being targeted by bullies because of his Italian nationality.
The First Minister said her story was “heartbreaking” and called on the UK government to “do the humane thing” and guarantee that EU nationals living in Britain have the right to stay after Brexit.
Ms Magoha addressed yesterday’s meeting at the Corn Exchange organised by the Scottish Government so ministers could hear from EU nationals about their fears.
Emanuele, a second-year student at George Heriot’s School, came to the UK from Italy with his mother in 2012, winning a full bursary to the elite £12,000-a-year academy.
“My son had a very bad period before the Brexit [referendum],” Ms Magoha said, with her son alongside her.
“He had problems at school, he was told to go away, that he was a scrounger, he didn’t have the right to be here, and he would come home in tears.”
Ms Magoha, a naturalised Italian from Kenya who works as a receptionist, said she feared her dream of seeing her son go to university in Scotland and “give back” to his former school would be dashed if the family lose their right to live in the UK.
“We have made a plan for his future. He has abandoned his language and learned English in a different school system, and now we don’t know.”
The single mother called on Ms Sturgeon and European leaders to ensure EU citizens don’t end up as the “refugees of Europe”.
“We have to live with our bags half-packed, our feet halfway out of the door,” Ms Magoha told the First Minister, through tears.
“Next year he is choosing his subjects [for exams].
“It is inhumane. It is against the basic human rights of children. Brexit is ruining the future of Scottish children.”
Ms Sturgeon said she was angry at the uncertainty facing Ms Magoha’s family, telling her: “It breaks my heart to hear you describe the impact on your son, and he is one of thousands of young people not just across Scotland but the UK who are feeling that way.
“It really breaks my heart that as First Minister, as the elected leader of this country, I am not able to sit here and give you the guarantees and the certainty that you want.
“People living here and trying to get on with their lives here should not suddenly have this question mark over their future,” the First Minister added, telling the audience: “You’re not bargaining chips, you are human beings with families, jobs, friends and lives.”
A spokesman for the UK government said the Prime Minister wanted to give guarantees to EU residents, but was seeking the same rights for British citizens living in Europe.