Posted: |
Updated: |

Polish organisations have submitted applications on behalf or for the benefit of immigrants on numerous occasions. In the very beginning, it should be emphasised that there is an obvious qualitative difference between applications “on behalf” and “for the benefit.” As for the former, there is certain cooperation between an organisation and a group of immigrants. This means that there are immigrants in a group which works on the general idea of the project, its preparation and goals. A project “for the benefit” of immigrants, by contrast, sounds worse in my opinion. Still, much depends on the area of activity.

The European Fund for the Integration of Third-Country Nationals (EIF) was launched in Poland in 2007. In the first years of its functioning, the Fund seemed to me a suspicious, even Mafia-like entity. Everyone kept too quiet about it. Its members did not appear in the media. There were no promotional campaigns, posters or anything that would have informed Poles about how they could help immigrants to integrate with the new society.

 

Even though I was active, I would not have learnt about this important institution for immigrants if I had not taken part in various meetings on development aid, shortly before Poland acceded to the European Union (EU). I have been talking about the low involvement of foreigners, especially after the first phase of the functioning of the EIF, on various discussion panels, forums and conferences for many years now. Considering this, my beloved NGOs may consider me grumpy. Still, this looks really bad in comparison with the funds spent in 2007-2013.

Now, it seems valuable to remind you what the EIF is. The European Fund for the Integration of Third-Country Nationals was established under the Council Decision 2007/435/EC of 25 June 2007. The objective of the Fund is to support the activities undertaken by the member states aimed at enabling third-country nationals (in other words, the citizens of the non-EU countries) with different social, cultural, religious, language and ethnic backgrounds to meet the requirements for the granting of a stay permit, and to facilitate their integration with the societies of Europe. The Fund focuses its attention primarily on activities in the field of the integration of third-country nationals. The Ministry of Labour and Social Policy is the institution responsible for the implementation system of the Fund. The Implementing Authority for European Programmes is a delegated institution.

In order to support the realisation of the general objective, the Fund contributes to the development and implementation of national strategies for the integration of third-country nationals in all social aspects, taking into consideration primarily the principle that integration is a dynamic two-way process of mutual accommodation by immigrants and their host societies.

In view of the lack of other sources of financing of integration activities, the European Fund for the Integration of Third-Country Nationals is a basic source of funds for activities in the area of the integration of foreigners. Due to the lack of any specific migration policy in Poland, the Fund, which was originally supposed to complement activities undertaken by the state, is almost wholly responsible for the form of immigrant integration activities. In this article, the term “immigrant” denotes foreigners (people who do not hold a Polish citizenship) who come to Poland for purposes other than tourism. This group includes also the leaders of migrant communities (also with a Polish passport) of foreign origin, who work actively for the benefit of their national or ethnic groups

 

Dramas on the southern borders of the EU

Spain and Italy have to face probably the largest number of problems on their borders. The attempts of emigrants from Northern Africa and the Middle East to get to Italy by sea or from Western Africa through the Atlantic to the Canary Islands can be deemed a humanitarian catastrophe. It is in the Spanish possessions in Morocco that the situation is the worst. The issues related to migration management have recently gained urgency. The media cover extensively cases of drowning or journeys in inhuman conditions. The Italian island of Lampedusa was some time ago the place of the biggest tragedy with immigrants in the contemporary history of Europe. The public in the West was shocked, and Pope Francis called it a disgrace. After the utopian attempts to close its sea borders, the EU concluded that effective management of migration flows and integration of newcomers is in our common interest. The EU has started to work on its common principles and mechanisms, even if integration policy, according to the provisions of the treaty, is the internal competence of the member states.

A few words about foreigners in Poland

According to the Policy Report of the European Migration Network (EMN-2011), 2011 did not see a sharp increase in the number of migrants interested in a long-term stay or residence in Poland. The statistics of 31 January 2011 show that foreigners in Poland, third-country nationals (from outside the EU and EEA – Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland), held almost 100,300 residence cards, including 48 000 residence permits, 41 000 temporary residence permits and 5700 long-term EU- resident permits. In comparison with 2010, the total number of valid residence cards rose (2010: 97 000 cards; an increase of 3,3%). The nationals of Ukraine, Russia, Vietnam and Byelorussia were the most numerous.

Tools employed for the benefit of immigrants

The integration policy of the European Union is the main tool. In its documents, the EU defines integration as “a dynamic two-way process of mutual accommodation by immigrants and their host societies.” Which issues are of utmost importance? The European Union indicates several directions of its activities: the strengthening of the capacity of host countries to benefit from social diversity, improvement of the roles of individual people in the management of social diversity, promotion of friendly relations with neighbours and strengthening of cooperation with the media in the area of integration.

What is the most important issue for Europe as regards effective integration of immigrants? Two issues seem so: labour market and education. This is the reason why the European Commission encourages everyone to combat discrimination in these areas. Further, the question of support for enterprises conducted by immigrants and participation of social partners in the development and implementation of integration projects is often brought to the fore.

As for educational projects, language courses are the most popular. During the first phase of the functioning of the EIF, there were really many of them in Warsaw. Obviously, language is one of the fundamental tools of social and economic integration. I always tell my friends from Africa: if you want to argue, do so in the local language. If you get a job in a restaurant, you will have to take orders and write them down!

Immigrants and the host society

Information campaign and intercultural dialogue are activities addressed to the host society. Without interaction, the immigrants and the host society cannot get to know each other,
a situation that perpetuates stereotypes and aggravates negative behaviour. There is no integration without social interaction. Integration policy, as a long-term process, requires acceptance not only of the representatives of the political scene but also, or even primarily, of the host society. People are usually more willing to accept legislative decisions when anti-migration sentiments are weak and newcomers from foreign countries are not feared. Certainly, radical circles and political parties are bound to incite these sentiments.

All activities that are open for the whole local community give the immigrants an opportunity to build relationship with their neighbours. A sense of belonging to the new place is of fundamental importance. Both language and relations with the host society are helpful in this respect and lay ground for the fundamental mechanism of integration. Sport (the Etnoliga project in Warsaw), various events promoting the culture and tradition of ethnic and national groups, events bringing together all cultures coexisting in a given place (annual multicultural Street Party organised by Continent Warsaw in Warsaw in August), Africa’s Day (an outdoor event financed by the capital city of Warsaw), Neighbour’s Day or meetings of immigrants with students at school are good examples of promotion of these relations. Conferences, film festivals, web pages and books raise the awareness of the host society.
The book “Africa in Warsaw” published by the Foundation Africa Another Way in 2010 inspired huge interest on the part of the media and society. That was also the case with a promotional campaign organised by the Armenian Foundation “Armenian Neighbour,” which included a conference and publication of a book.

Capital city and immigrants

The percentages of immigrants in chosen European cities are as follows: Luxemburg (59,15%), Amsterdam (47%) and London (27%); the number of immigrants is still rising in such capital cities as Madrid (12,75%), Dublin (8,4%), Rome (6,6%) and Lisbon (6,27%).

In comparison which such European countries as Germany, France, England and Belgium, the capital city of Poland is little socially diversified. During the interwar period, Warsaw was inhabited by Poles, Jews, Germans, Russians and other ethnic or national groups. The non-Polish community constituted 40% of the total population of the city. Nowadays, most foreigners who come to Poland live in Warsaw. The number of international students rises together with the number of immigrants who come to Warsaw. It is estimated that 150,000 foreigners live in Warsaw today. In comparison with the rest of Poland, Warsaw is really multicultural. Nevertheless, the centres of immigrants in Warsaw are not as big as those in Western Europe, let alone ethnic ghettos in Northern America or districts in some cities in the West. Still, you can find here areas where the presence of immigrants, for instance Vietnamese, is visible. These are the vicinities of the Palace of Culture and Science, Hale Banacha, “Za Żelazną Bramą” housing estate, “Wola Park” shopping centre, marketplace at Koło and Plac Zawiszy.

Immigrants do not form a substantial majority of any of the districts of Warsaw or block of streets. There are no ghettos of ethnic or religious groups either. It is the rental rate or transport options that are decisive factors when it comes to choosing one’s house.

How to make immigrants more active?

The launching of the European Fund for the Integration of Third-Country Nationals in Poland has opened up new possibilities for organisations for immigrants. Its support and facilitation of the financing of integration projects contributed not only to the rise in the number of such organisations. New interesting initiatives emerged as well. Now that the Fund has been functioning already for several years, one can ask how the projects financed by it have facilitated the integration of third-country nationals in Poland and to what extent they have changed Polish society.

They have strengthened social inclusion. At this point I would like to revert to the concept of a “migrant.” Experience demonstrates that various social actors and public institutions are involved in activities connected with migration. Immigrants are often ignored in the process of reaching agreement. It is a huge mistake repeated for many years in various countries. An immigrant is not “formated.” Migrants are people with various needs and adaptation capabilities. Integration will not be as effective as expected if this diversity among new-comers is not taken into account. It is this individual aspect, which we discuss while dealing with issues connected with labour market, education, accommodation etc. It should be emphasised, however, that projects are usually addressed to broad circles of immigrants. Organisations for migrants can and should play an important role in the development and realisation of integration policy. Projects should be assessed once in a time as to how they encourage participation on the part of foreigners. Immigrants are the target group of the EIF. In Poland, this group is still rather small, which begs the question of how well this community is approached and diagnosed. Integration activities should not be judged only by the number of people directly involved in or invited to projects. What about a broader circle of immigrants? It is true that immigrants exchange information. Still, there is a difference between community information (for instance, when the amnesty law entered into force, every illegal immigrant understood the gravity of the situation and passed the information on to his or her compatriots and friends) and willingness to take part in research or conferences. In the last two cases, an illiterate immigrant (there are many people who cannot write or read) does not know what relation this bears to integration. That is the reason why diagnosing
a given community is so important if the organisation that carries out the project wants to be effective.

Another problem is insufficient knowledge about sources of financing among immigrants.
I conducted a biennial project financed by the Batory Foundation that aimed at stirring to action the African communities in five cities: Tricity, Poznań, Wrocław, Cracow and Łódź. During the meetings, I strove to explain who a grantor is, how much money we have, why everyone should pay attention to the financial reports from our meetings and so on. As regards the EIF, beneficiaries should know where the funds at their disposal come from. The knowledge about the sources of the financing of specific integration projects may spur beneficiaries to action. Why wouldn’t they encourage their own communities to be active and try to receive funds that are addressed to their compatriots? When in need, numerous foreigners ask for help people of the same origin or living in the same town. Many of them do not identify assistance granted as part of projects. Once, I took my compatriots to the office of the Association for Legal Intervention, explaining to them on our way there that the association works as part of an EU project. They wondered why that aid was free of charge. Newcomers count rather on traditional contacts with their compatriots rather than on the institutions of the host country. This testifies to the low level of formalisation of older generations. This aid is given as friendly support. We do not know whether this low involvement of immigrants results from these informal contacts – there will always be an older compatriot, someone more knowledgeable than I am, who will help me and tell where and how I can complete formalities. In big cities, this is the role of students or graduates coming from a given country.

As for legal aid projects, non-governmental organisations act as intermediaries between migrants and public administration institutions. These are typical projects that involve primarily Polish citizens, while any participation of immigrants in roles other than this of
a customer is hardly noticeable.

Effectiveness of Projects

The question of to what extent migrants are committed to work for their own benefit is actually a question about the effectiveness of integration activities and the financed projects. When we talk about the needs of immigrants, we naturally refer also to the interest of the whole host society. We can agree about the importance of the national language because it enables foreigners to find their bearings in the local reality. Further, of great importance are activities aimed at boosting one’s chances on the labour market, for instance vocational courses. Actions addressed to the host society are obviously also important. One can organise trainings and adjust the project to given target groups. The goals will be then assessable and indicative of the effectiveness of the actions taken. Nevertheless, doubts arise in various cases. We can read reports and lists of figures prepared by beneficiaries who have undergone some training. The question is, however, whether only figures are good news for the interested parties and grantors? Do we have qualitative data: how has the training or counseling influenced the situation of an immigrant on the labour market, for instance? The subject usually ceases to be discussed after the project is complete. What about further cooperation with beneficiaries? We know that there is nothing like an immediate effect in real life just as medicines do not cure immediately. The monitoring of actual effects and the way an immigrant copes with various challenges after the training is complete may be helpful in assessing the value of the project.

Low level of involvement on the part of immigrants

The fundamental cause of the low level of involvement on the part of immigrants is that there are not many of them in Poland. When I am writing this, we are in the middle of 2014. Immigrants constitute less then 0,5% in Poland, which has a population of 38 million inhabitants. Poland is still a country where emigration exceeds immigration.

Among the most common problems that immigrants have to deal with and complain of most frequently are the registration of stay, visits in offices (long queues at the Voivodship Office in Warsaw at Długa 5 up till recently), lack of legal information, which makes migrants elicit the assistance of intermediaries, violations of the right to privacy and protection of image rights by journalists who cover events concerning immigrants.

The projects of the European Fund for the Integration of Third-Country Nationals have been developed and realised by numerous Polish organisations. Some of them were aimed at spurring to action the community of migrants. I do not have statistics from the whole country, but I have my own observations about the number of organisations for migrants present at conferences, meetings or active in migrant communities. There are few of them. It is quite disturbing that some organisations have not carried out their work for the benefit of migrants well enough. Assistance in establishing associations is crippling as well.

Obviously, it always cuts both ways. Immigrants themselves also should be held responsible for this low involvement. The main obstacle to stirring immigrant communities to action has been the unclear legal status of numerous diaspora members and the primacy of individual livelihood needs. The amnesty law passed by foreigners should remedy this situation to a great extent.

Why do immigrants themselves are not as active as they should be? After all, this is in their own interest. It is really important for foreigners to have a chance to meet people who have similar experience, come from the same country, have similar problems and speak the same language. The support of your own group gives you self-confidence and a sense of community. Such relations within one’s own group are not conducive to openness to other groups of migrants and the host society. It is easy to get stuck in one’s “mental ghetto.” This is why such initiatives should be undertaken as part of projects. Thanks to new contacts made during works on those projects, immigrants can find it easier to encourage their compatriots who have just come to the country to take part in events organised by the city authorities or non-governmental organisations.

A fish or a fishing rod?

This philosophical question keeps coming back. To wait for help from outside or invest my time and effort into solving my own problems? Another internal obstacle lies in the great stratification of migrant communities, their various origins, mentalities and education. Immigrants come to Poland with different approaches and for different purposes: to earn money, study, visit the new country, develop themselves, find shelter from persecution or life threat in their countries of origin.

There are still chances that immigrants might be more active. Local and municipal programmes are the most important and visible aspects of immigration policy. These projects should be conducted by representatives of local communities. The local authorities know what is on the agenda, know better the structure of immigrant groups and their needs.

To conclude

In order to sum up the functioning of the EIF in Poland in 2007-2013 and assess the participation of immigrants, one should answer the following question: is this all about inviting immigrants to take part in various research projects, cultural events and counseling, or increasing the number of immigrant organisations, which will prepare their own projects, submit their own applications and realise their own goals in the future. Despite the low number of immigrants in Poland, much could have been done. Does this mean that greater involvement on the part of immigrants could be expected after 7 years of the functioning of the EIF in Poland? Polish organisations know this because they have difficulties getting to third-country nationals, especially non-Slavic ones. This testifies not only to the distance between the host society and the immigrants but also to the discord between NGOs which work for the benefit of immigrants and their beneficiaries.

Do final reports contain the opinion of beneficiaries on the effects of the actions undertaken as part of projects? Are there still questionnaires which examine something more than the number of immigrants invited to participate in the project?

As long as there is no system of free legal aid financed, for instance, by the Fund for immigrants, many of them (for instance footballers playing in lower leagues) will not have a chance to assert their rights.

This text is not a fruit of research, but my personal reflection, based on my observations about the actions undertaken for the benefit of immigrants in Warsaw, mainly thanks to the funds of the EIF. When a foreigner, even one without a Polish citizenship, starts to feel at home here, he or she starts to plan the future here and support local groups. One can assume then that he or she is a self-reliant and independent person, who functions well in society. Such immigrants can be useful for the host society as people who can earn their own crust. This improves their image. Integration is a two-way process. Everyone should make effort – both the immigrants and the host society.

By Mamadou Diouf

Translation: Anna Orzechowska