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"That for every one of over one million Poles here there is a deeply personal reason for migration."
 

 

 

I came to London nine years ago fascinated by the phenomenon of international migration of Poles. My plan was not so different to that of most Poles coming here: to stay here for a year or so, earn some money and go back to do something different with your life. And yet, nine years later, here I am.

 

In Poland I worked with an NGO dealing with social exclusion and one of our key programmes was dedicated to supporting people who were coming back from the UK. I have always been fascinated by motivations of people leaving Poland, particularly those aware that this move can end up badly for tchem.

 

Nine years later I know that for every one of over one million Poles here there is a deeply personal reason for migration.  For some it was money, that is for sure, but I believe many moved here out of curiosity and for the pure joy of being able to do just that and enjoy no borders. And many of them stayed.

 

As a result, many people are stuck in a permanent “temporary migration” and lead a lasting “makeshift life”. Some of our beneficiaries have been working for nine years at construction sites and they still live at the same addresses, in the same multibed accommodation as when they moved to the UK. We are not always able to grasp it at first, but it usually turns out that there is some logic to that.

 

I recall a piece of research claiming that integration in the host country usually takes around four years. You need that time to learn specific cultural codes, build social ties, and study the language to a communicative standard.

 

Once you passed that threshold – that is it. It then become increasingly difficult to leave because it is no longer a return, but another migration in its own rights.  Out there is now a different Poland to the one you moved out from four, eight or ten years ago. Your people are gone, too, and the entire society has moved on. The British adage "the past is another country" fits well here.

 

Our beneficiaries usually have limited access to all the usual work opportunities.  It is either because of lower level of education or past experiences of being exploited at work. As a result, the way they see life in the UK will always be slightly different to that of a regular person, and it will be more difficult for them to cope. Their problems could vary and range from exploitation at work through migration status to serious family issues.

 

Why most of our employees are women? I have never thought about that, but I think women are more prepared to take on other people's crises. Somebody make a mess, and we must step in and restore order. That modus operandi requires a particular form of resilience.

 

A person working with us has to believe that we are doing the right thing firmly. Our job is so intellectually, emotionally and physically demanding that it must be backed by your internal conviction. In this type of work, you do not just get your salary at the end of the month.

 

It helps that all of us have experienced some of the hardships of our beneficiaries – not necessarily for years, but each of us had some shitty jobs we were not paid for or lived in a shared accommodation with way too many people. That creates a certain bond between us and our beneficiaries.

 

When somebody approaches me to say he or she is in big troubles and hopes for pity... been there, done that, got the T-shirt. You have to get yourself together, no mercy. We will never look down at you, but we can only help if you want to help yourself.

 

Words: Jakub Krupa

Picture: Jadwiga Brontē

 

© 2012 Ministry of Foreign Affairs