All Quiet On The Eastern Front
Aggravation of the Polish foreigners' law
Possibilities for a legal stay
Application for recognition as a refugee
Refugee quarters, guarded camps and deportation prisons
Country of origin
The East-West divide
The job situation of illegalized foreigners
Working situation of foreign prostitutes
The illegalized daily routine
Raids and state control
Refugee organisations and support groups
Since the upheavals in 1989, almost all politicians and members of public life in Poland have something in common: every opportunity is taken to express their boundless pleasure about newly-won freedom and release from the Communist yoke. But right after this release into free enterprise, Poland has already been assigned its new position. As a buffer zone between the healthy west and the poor neighbours in Eastern Europe, this country of 40 million people seems to find its future in behaving in a more "western" fashion than the victorious powers of the Cold War. On the one hand, studies by the Interior Ministry underline Poland's recent development from a classical transit country into an immigrant nation. On the other, foreign policy pressures the Polish government into acting against refugees and immigrants1. As a candidate for membership in the European Union, Warsaw is bound to the guidelines of the Schengen Agreement2. While Poland's endeavour to cut off Eastern Europe has led to conflicts with its neighbours3, the "big brothers" in the west are still not satisfied regarding the speed with which the future eastern border of the European Union is being reinforced. [back to top]
After the first repatriation agreement with the EU had been brought to a close, a German-Polish treaty followed. Co-operation between the two countries regarding deportation should be made easier4. In 1993, the Polish government signed a treaty with the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic, the Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria. So a legalised international deportation system was installed5. In the view of the German government, Poland was obliged to take back some 10,000 refugees and immigrants every year who entered Germany illegally via Poland. In reaction to this obligation, Poland received, between 1993 and 1996, the sum of 120 million German marks to structure its own administration system for refugees. The money was also used to accommodate deportation prisoners and cut off the western border of Poland. The contract prescribed that at least 50% of the technical equipment which is necessary for border control had to be bought in Germany. In this way, the conditions for better cooperation between the border authorities were established. Contact and exchange between the Polish border police and the German authorities (BGS) attained model character. Concerted patrols are arranged so no border section is unguarded6. Once a week, a bi-national working meeting takes place. Polish border policemen are partly educated and trained in Germany. Just recently, a German-Polish border guard was created. Similar "bilateral" guards are planned at the border to the Czech Republic, Slovakia and the Ukraine. Only the co-operation with Russia and Belorussia seems to cause problems because a repatriation agreement is lacking with Poland.
Far-reaching powers for Polish police allow them to follow "suspects" up to 5 kilometres into Czech territory. Of course they haven't got the same authority at the German border.
In 1998 the German administration paid another 9 million German marks to the Polish interior ministry to install a short wave network, so the Polish police and border patrol can make faster contact, such as access to international information systems7. The European Commission placed 25 million German marks at the disposal of the forces at the Polish border. The money came from the so-called "Phare programme"8.
While the EU had established a visa requirement for citizens of the Ukraine, Russia and Belorussia for a long time, Poland used to follow an unrestricted policy. Meanwhile, Poland only allows its Ukrainian neighbours a three months' stay, which will change when Poland becomes a member of the EU. At the beginning of the year, the Polish government instructed the foreign ministry to terminate the contracts on unrestricted travel with Russia, Belorussia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazhakstan, Kirghizia, Tadzhikistan, Turkistan, Ukraine, Moldova, Bulgaria, Romania, Yugoslavia, Cuba and Mongolia, in the coming years. A press report mentioned a little nervously that these new guidelines were designed to have only a few negative disadvantages for border traffic and that visa policy regarding the Ukraine, for example, should be set up as late as possible9. Apart from the pressure of the EU-members (especially Germany's), the new foreigners' law, with its polished administrative and legal instruments, illustrates Poland's willingness to follow the West in every way. [back to top]
Aggravation of the Polish foreigners' law
The new valid foreigners law can be described as quite liberal compared with other European countries. It was, for example, seen legally, not possible to withdraw unlimited residence permits or to deport people with such a permit. Persons who were caught crossing the Polish-German border illegally were in many cases given a so called administrative visa by Polish authorities which requested them to leave the country in a certain time from a certain border station. So they were released by the police and could live without any fear of state persecution. In the "practical comment" about the new foreigners law, the author shows his satisfaction that the 1998 law will redress imperfections like the absence of a central register for unwelcome aliens.
Through the restricted travel and visa regulations, and the so-called secure third state regulation, legal grounds for deportations were extended and more effective handling enabled. Following the new law, foreigners have to prove that they can afford to visit Poland. Sometimes a confirmation of an invitation or a so-called voucher-confirmation (like an already paid hotel room) is such proof. Invitations are now registered by Polish authorities. Similar to Germany, authorities have the right to check if an inviting citizen can pay for the stay of a foreign guest.
Besides this, an invitation is bound to carry all the costs a guest could incur, possible deportations included. Previously convicted Polish citizens who were at least three years in prison are excluded from the right to invite foreigners. The rule that transportation companies have to pay for repatriation or deportation, a regulation in the Schengen treaty, is also new. Besides, the appropriate county (Wojewede) is obliged to impose a fine of up to 5000 Zloty (800 Pounds) per illegal alien on the transportation company. An additional amendment to the foreigners' law is coming soon. Centre of interest is the closing of loopholes as, for example, an application for asylum by persons who are arrested as illegal foreigners. These immigrants had the possibility - so the police version - to avoid deportation by an application. [back to top]
Possibilities for a legal stay
After the new foreigners' law was enacted, immigrants and refugees had the following possibilities for legal status in Poland: four different visa categories, two different kinds of residence permits and the opportunity to be a legitimate refugee10. Only if the asylum application is permitted, can refugees stay as long as the application is considered. Compared to Germany and other countries in the west, the 3,000 to 4,000 asylum applications in Poland are rather low11.
A normal residence permit entitles foreigners to stay for six months and can be extended once. A residence permit combined with a work permit entitles them to stay for a duration of 12 months and can also be extended for an additional year. To receive such a visa, a foreigner needs an employment permit from an employer. The application procedure for this permit is not only time-consuming, it also makes it complicated for people with little or no knowledge of the Polish language to cope with the formalities. Besides the transit visa, which entitles travellers to stay in Poland for two days, there is a repatriation visa for Polish expatriates. Polish exiles can stay in Poland for one year.
The residence permits differ between a temporal limited and an unlimited permit that is connected with the right to settle. In both cases a work permit can be applied for. In the case of unlimited permission, it is restricted to ten years. To receive the right to settle, you have to have lived for at least three years with a limited residence permit in Poland. An appropriate income, your own apartment and finally a familiar or economic relationship with Poland has to be proven.
The border guards decide about entry prohibition. The amount that has to be paid for entering the country is not fixed by law, so the border guards can judge autonomously if the financial resources are high enough for a certain duration of stay.
They can even shorten the duration entered in the visa. It is not surprising that since the new law was enacted, the number of refused entries and rejected visa applications has been almost doubled. If deportation is decided by the authorities, fingerprints and photos will be taken. For future reference, this information is placed in a central register. Foreigners are not considered regarding the data protection law. [back to top]
Application for recognition as a refugee
The asylum application now has to be filed right at the border or at the latest 14 days after entry if "life or limb is in danger". So border guards have got the grounds to refuse people right at the border. As in every Schengen state, applicants are subjected to degrading treatment including taking finger prints and photos. If there are doubts about an applicant's information, refugees can be kept at the border for seven days. If the application is not accepted after a week, a deportation order will be remitted and the foreigners come into a guarded camp. If danger of absconding is assumed, they are put into custody prior to deportation. After 90 days, inmates have to be released. After deportation, entry will be refused for the next two years; if the state has to pay the costs of deportation, even for the following five years. People, who were caught in cars, forests or apartments without any papers must also be released if their identity is not clear after 90 days or the necessary documents are not there in time. The human rights organisation "Helsinki Foundation" in Warsaw estimates that about 5,000 people in Poland live under these conditions. [back to top]
Refugee quarters, guarded camps and deportation prisons
In 1995 the Polish foreigners' law was extended with a passage which enabled the authorities to place "illegal" foreigners for 90 days in deportation detention. All together, Poland has got 25 deportation prisons and guarded camps. A new jail for deportation prisoners near the German border is already planned. This prison will be built because the detentions which are used at the moment are old and were only partly renewed in 1994 for this purpose. They are run by county police or Polish border police. The refugee camps were erected in former military barracks. At the end of 1996 a new deportation prison was set up near Warsaw, not far from the airport. On the outskirts of the village Lesznowola, it covers about two hectares, is surrounded by a ten foot high fence and is permanently guarded. About 150 people can be imprisoned here. The central admission camp for refugees in the village Debak near the Polish capital has a co-ordinating function, 400 people are accommodated here in a former military complex. The next train station is two miles away and a bus connection does not exist. The camp Smoszew is also completely isolated from the outside world.
A single trip by public transport would cost the monthly "pocket-money" of 25 Zloty (four pounds). Often refugees are shifted without reason into other camps. Refugees protested in the past about this treatment. In October 1998, newspapers reported that 56 Tamils from Sri Lanka went on hunger strike when they were to be shifted and soon deported. Apart from that, interviews, which are the basis for a decision regarding the asylum application, often take place without translators. Asylum seekers are forced to sign statements they don't understand.
Following the results of a study, immigrants were exposed to harassment such as insults by the guards, discrimination at meals and more degrading experiences. The camp in Debak, which co-operates with the Ministry of the Interior, is well known for these practices. [back to top]
Country of origin
Most immigrants and refugees travelling through or to Poland come from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, India, Bangladesh, China, Vietnam, Romania and from countries of the former Soviet Union (e.g. Caucasian deserters) like Armenia, as well as Nigeria, Cameroon, Iraq and Turkey. Ukrainians and Belorussians are not refugees, they are seen as so-called "commuter immigrants" with a time limit. They can work for a certain time and then have to return home. Meanwhile, Poland has got large Armenian, Vietnamese, Sinti and Roma communities. Armenian immigrants mainly live in the north-east, especially in towns with a population between 50,000 - 60,000 people. Although the majority hasn't got legal status, the Armenians can organize their daily routine quite unproblematically. Until 1998, children could even visit kindergartens in many communities. Problems occurred when they reached school-age, but still primary schools regulated this question unbureaucratically. Older children usually stay in Armenia.
Armenian immigrants earn their living usually through the trade of textiles and shoes in bazaars. An Armenian man said: "I am just here and nobody asks me why. (...) No one bothers us and asks what we are doing here. It happened once that the local police asked us for our trade licence. We paid our fine and that's it." The Armenians often live in the poorest areas. Strong and intensively co-operative communities are good protection against attacks by local inhabitants. Conversations with Armenians made it clear that Poland wasn't their favourite country, because they can only reach a low social status there. The United Arab Emirates was the original aim, but the trip to the Persian Gulf is too expensive and dangerous. [back to top]
The East-West divide
Polish border regions are marked by different standards of living. They belong to those parts of the country that are divided into "Poland A" and "Poland B", in the sense of first and second class, by the Polish population. "Poland A" encloses the western part, the industrial areas of Silesia and the cities Lodz, Posznan and Warsaw. These cities have got an above-average government and private enterprise infra-structure (trade and industry). There are also a number of international works and conference venues.
Many Poles in the western part, like Wroclaw for example, were resettled because of the frontier revisions after World War 2 from Galicia. The former Polish town L'wiw has belonged since 1945 to the Soviet Union and now it is part of the Ukraine. Poland was in the past centuries a kind of colonial power in these areas. Between 1945 and 1946 about half a million Ukrainians were violently driven out of the People's Republic of Poland into the Ukrainian Soviet Republic. In 1947 followed the "Action Vistula", the displacement of 150,000 remaining Ukrainians to the western and northern part of Poland.
The responsible authorities explained this action by the fact that armed fascist Ukrainian groups were still active in the south-east of Poland.
The historical events are relevant for the present, because old family ties or friendships between Ukrainians and Polish families could be used to smuggle refugees from the Ukraine to Poland.
"Poland B", the eastern part of the country, like Lublin and its southern and northern areas, is poor and marked by agricultural companies, the retail trade and impoverished villages. The unemployment rate in eastern border areas has reached 30%. It is comparable with the former eastern border zone of West Germany. While western Poland became attractive for foreign companies, in particular Germans and French, border trade with the Belorussian and Ukrainian neighbours is still one of the most important sources of income of the east. It is part of the daily routine of many Belorussians to travel regularly to Poland for trade in food. Food in Polish border areas is cheaper than in Belorussia. Because of the new rules and the introduction of visa requirements, border traffic and trade are strongly affected. Militant protests, especially by Belorussian traders, who threw stones at Polish cars on the other side of the border, give evidence as to how tense the climate is. Since 1998 the Belorussian government has tried to tie up trade in certain goods and inexpensive shopping in Smolensk and Bialystok with an import ban. A sarcastic headline in "Gazeta Wyborcza" in January 1998 said: "Belorussia takes care of the bags and Poland of the documents". A few days later the newspaper reported that the entry of Belorussian traders was refused because they couldn't show their invitations.
The future development of border areas is assessed differently by German and Polish observers. Klaus Bachmann, a correspondent of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, expects foreign investors like supermarket chains to roll over the east, which would be the end of border trade. Polish immigration experts disagree. They see the need for concessions by the authorities. In their opinion, the "shadow economy" has reached such importance for the border regions that many decrees aren't enforceable. They also predict a "liberal" interpretation of these rules, which is a friendly description for increasing corruption. The hope of becoming an EU-member and the wish to entertain good relations and economic interests with its neighbours is leading the Polish government into a growing dilemma. [back to top]
The job situation of illegalized foreigners
The number of "illegal" workers in Poland is estimated at 100,000. To understand "illegal working immigration" in Poland, some information is necessary: following official statements, the unemployment rate amounts to 11,8%, 61% of the unemployed are women. It is expected that through entry into the EU and restructuring connected with membership, the situation and lack of perspective will be aggravated. Besides agriculture, where the fear of dying forests grows, the coal mining industry is mainly affected by economic changes.
The government wasn't and isn't able to pay redundant Silesian coal miners the promised compensation. Demonstrations, hunger strikes and other actions by coal miners, farmers, and workers in arms factories ("With Polish arms into NATO") are part of the daily routine.
For immigrants it was always hard to get a legal job. Through the new foreigners law it has become even harder. Even for Ukrainians, only 2000 working permits were issued12, although they are the group with the highest legal employment status. 39% of Ukrainian employees work in unqualified jobs (mainly in farming, followed by industrial jobs, transportation and trade) with short-term contracts and low salary. A survey about (legal) seasonal employment says: "The employee's working conditions and accommodation at the companies examined were bad and connected with huge difficulties, i.e. enormous exploitation and total dependence on the employer. For daily needs, the workers receive a weekly advance payment of 40 Zloty (7 pounds ).Every twelve weeks the complete salary (500 Zlothy a month) is paid out. The average working day lasts at least 12 hours, but often 15, 16 and sometimes even 18 hours. The working day starts at 5 o'clock in the morning and ends at 5 or 6 o'clock in the evening. The hourly wage amounts to 1,89 Zloty or 2,4 Zloty, if a working day is longer than 10 hours"13.
A 24-year old man from L'wiw, who worked for four weeks as a harvest assistant in a village near Lublin said in an interview: "We always get up early, at five or six o'clock. It depends on the weather or the quantity of the raspberries. We work until lunch and rest until three or four o'clock. It has something to do with the extraordinary heat in this year's summer and berries can't be picked if it is hot. Then we collect until eight o'clock in the evening. Afterwards we have to transport the berries to the processing plant"14. Sometimes these badly paid legal jobs are seen as a kind of extra earnings, while the chief source of income comes from the border trade. In the Ukraine and Belorussia, production stops are a normal part of the production process. The workers use these "breaks" more often for the so-called commuter immigration to Poland.
Many Ukrainians travel normally with a tourist visa to Poland, which doesn't include a work permit, use the available job market (bazaar, street corners and so on), that are known as places where cheap labourers can be hired. If the workers are not in Poland for the first time, they use old contacts to find a job. The best possibilities to find work in the informal sector are the construction sector and seasonal agriculture. Many Ukrainian immigrants work in small industrial companies, as housekeepers, in child care, in renewing apartments and many other jobs like unloading goods. Women's jobs are generally paid badly. Without any industrial safety and union support, immigrants are often cheated by their employers. The jobs are mostly limited, physically exhausting, dangerous and unhealthy and therefore not attractive to Polish workers.
Immigration experts at the University of Kiev report that the wages of Ukrainian foreign workers are usually lower than the salary of Polish workers, but still higher than in the Ukraine. This explains why Ukrainians accept low salaries, bad living conditions and miserable accommodation. "Their illegal status excludes every possibility to sue for their rights. They depend on their employers and job agents. (...) Beyond this, work immigrants are targets for protection money demands."15
Basically you can assume that the poverty divide between east and west will widen: many jobs, given up by Polish employees who are looking for better chances to earn money in the west, were occupied by East European immigrants. For jobs at shipyards or construction work, not enough Polish workers are available. Just like Poland, Russia and Lithuania are, because of their comparatively high standard of living and higher wages, attractive to Ukrainians and Belorussians. [back to top]
Working situation of foreign prostitutes.
Street prostitution by foreign women is, in Poland, just as in the Czech Republic and Hungary, a phenomenon of the 90's, which was unknown in these countries until the political situation changed16. Official estimates say that 40% of the 10,000 street prostitutes are foreigners. Most foreign prostitutes are from Bulgaria and far less from the Ukraine, Belorussia, Kazhakstan, Uzbekistan and Armenia. Very often the police pick up these women at controls. Working conditions on the street are described as very hard. The women sleep mostly eight or more to a room in containers without any water or light. They can only leave them with their pimp's permission. If they are hit or raped, they can't defend themselves because of their illegal status. As extra pressure, the pimps keep the women's passports. In contradiction to common opinion, the customers are not only foreign truck drivers. The majority of customers are Polish men from the nearby area. The women get 20 - 50 Zloty per client. Intercourse without a condom is twice as expensive, but many get their will without extra pay. The relationship between Polish and foreign prostitutes is tense because of the low prices foreign women work for. They have to give 50 - 80% of their daily salary to their (Russian, Ukrainian, Georgian and Armenian) pimps, who are organized in gangs. Often women are sent by their fathers, brothers, husbands or former boyfriends to work on the street.
For many female immigrants, street prostitution is the only possibility to guarantee the family's survival (often the husband is unemployed and parents have to live on a small pension). If they are picked up by the Polish police they are brought into deportation detention. Some women don't regard custody, considering their desperate living conditions, as a negative experience: "In the Polish prison, I ate dry bread with sausage every day and you won't believe it, for me it was luxury."17
Since the foreigners law was enacted, fingerprints and photos of foreign prostitutes are taken before they get deported. A Polish supporter of the "Kein Mensch ist illegal" campaign points out the EU policy's double standards: on the one hand, the EU finances, via the PHARE- programme, the Polish women's organization "La Strada", which is fighting against the trade in women. At the same time, "La Strada" supports foreign prostitutes with consultations. On the other hand, with the same money the EU finances border reinforcement and creates unfavourable conditions for earning money for the women, who depend on this source in the west. 15% of deported foreigners were streetwalkers. [back to top]
The illegalized daily routine
In every Polish city or village there are boarding houses where illegalized can find cheap and sometimes even free accommodation. But recently these opportunities became a kind of trap, because they are easy to find and search by the police: illegalized people can usually rent single apartments, even if they are expensive, without any problems. That's a safe alternative to common accommodation. Besides the insecure conditions regarding apartments and jobs, another problem becomes relevant: medical care, in a society that even can't provide payable medication for local senior citizens. Since the enactment of the health service reform in 1999, it became more difficult for people without a health insurance to receive medical treatment. In some cases seriously injured foreigners were brought to several hospitals without being treated because of the unclear financial situation (in one case a person died). Since the last education reform it is extremely difficult for children of the illegalized to visit state schools. In many areas of daily life, individual contacts and bribes are more important for their survival than ever before. [back to top]
Raids and state control
For about three years, large police deployments have taken place in areas where "illegal" foreigners are suspected, no matter if they want to travel to western Europe or plan to stay in Poland. The first large raid of this kind (June 19, 1996) was not directed by chance against Romanian Roma and Sinti who had camped under a bridge. At four o'clock in the morning the police surrounded the camps at both sides of the river and arrested 130 people. Children were separated from their parents. The police brought them into children's homes. The provisional huts at the river banks were flattened by bulldozers or burned down. Most Roma and Sinti had valid visas for the Ukraine, so the police transported them to the eastern border. "Warsaw is free!" cheered the city's vice-mayor; others were speaking of graveyards that were never in fact found on the terrain, others again spoke of epidemic risks and threatening scenarios. To liven up and to describe the racist atmosphere which is, as always in Poland, directed against Romanian Roma and Sinti, the conservative newspaper "Zycie Warszawy" quoted a resident without any comment: "This gang of dirty pigs should be brought to camps and there they should finish with them. Only this way can we get rid of these gangs of thieves and loafers, these damned pigs!".
The second large police deployment that was reported by the press started in July 1998 and ended in October. The raid was called "Akcja Oboy" (Action Stranger). Following the border patrol spokesman's Szacillo information, the police were specifically searching for "illegal" persons, living in Poland without any valid documents: "We were urged to put the rules of the foreigners law into action. The aim was to prove, even before entry into the EU, the country's reliability. Finally our eastern border will be the border of a united Europe."18 In connection with "Action Stranger", 1,392 people were arrested throughout the entire country. Many of them, of course, came from Romania. After proof of identity, the police took them right away to the country of origin, and the data was given to the border patrol.
The third large police raid in April 1999 in the county of Sandomierz was carried out "to track down illegally-employed foreigners". The action is connected with state efforts to act against every form of illicit work, which was tolerated in the past. Estimates say that the "grey job market" embraces about two million people, which probably includes 100,000 - 150,000 immigrants. Illegal employment, so says an administration statement, takes place in the agriculture sector and building construction. Control by the administration is quite difficult, as long as employers and employees share the same interests. Fines for employers are higher than for employees and run from a few dozen to a maximum of 3,000 - 4,000 Zloty.
Meanwhile, the Polish employment office has set up a special department specialized in investigation and fighting against illicit work. Altogether, 500 inspectors were trained just for this reason. Employers are obliged by law to pay their illegal employee's deportation19.
In Kielce county alone, 290 people were arrested and deported by the police in connection with the "Sandomierz" action, 200 persons came from the Ukraine, the rest from Armenia, Bulgaria, Mongolia and Moldova. The police combed through the bazaars and obviously made face checks. One of the affected persons from L'wiw (Ukraine) explained: "I went shopping with my husband at Sandomierz market. Policemen came up to us and asked for our papers. They took us to a big hall at Sandomierz school. They gave us different papers, which we should sign, although we couldn't read them. It didn't help to explain to them that we had legal status in Poland and were also registered until the 5th May. We came to Poland to look after our sick uncle. For more than 10 hours we had to stay in the stuffy hall, until we were deported to the Ukraine. We could get neither our belongings nor our money. My husband could only get the car. We weren't allowed to call anybody. The police said that the phone didn't work. We didn't have a translator. Even I, and I speak Polish, couldn't understand what was happening to us".
Others were arrested after a museum visit. One of them suffered an epileptic fit. At the first attack, the police called an ambulance, but then a fellow prisoner listened to a conversation between two policemen: "Why should we care? There are so many of them here (...) If one of them goes to pot, nothing will happen." The police spokesman described the raid as a routine procedure which derived from the new foreigners law. The authorities of Kielce justified the raid with the Pope's visit in June 1999. After the "Sandomierz" action, more raids took part at the job markets in Piaseczno, Gora Kalwaria and Konstancin near Warsaw. About 130 Ukrainians, 30 Belorussians and a couple of dozen Mongolians were arrested because they traded at the bazaar illegally, or didn't have valid visas20. In the last few months the number of reports about Dziesieciolecie market in Warsaw has increased. The market is known as "the Russian market". The police seem to be interested in the trade with CD pirate copies, which is supposed to be in the hands of foreign gangs. It's remarkable that newspapers underline the foreigner's nationality, to stress the racist stereotype of criminal foreigners. The last large raid took place obviously in connection with the EU summit in Tampere. "Gazeta Wyborcza" reported on October 14th 1999, that 104 people were arrested in Wielkopolska county. Altogether 700 foreigners in brothels, markets and in the streets were checked by the police.
On the 13th/ 14th of January 2000, reports on Polish TV and in newpapers about investigations by the Interior Ministry against the authorities in Slupsk appeared. The Slupsk authorities had given 681 residence permits to citizens of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in 1998. The reason for the permission was, mostly, marriages with Polish citizens. There existed a rumour that Vietnamese were looking for partners for sham marriages. Supposedly 4,000 to 7,000 Zloty were paid. The authority's problem here is that married couples in Poland don't need the same place of residence for state recognition. Police aiming to prove separate residences by house searches can't be successful. It is unclear how a "sham marriage" can be proven under this legal position. The legislator will soon take care of this problem. The growing number of controls and police raids against "illegal employed" and foreign humans are not criticized by the public. Polish inhabitants seem to have an ambivalent attitude towards East European working immigrants. On the one hand, against the background of a tense social situation, people welcome police action against foreign competitors in the job market. On the other hand, they want to make use of the cheap supply at bazaars and markets. The possibility to buy cheap labour for a few hours or a day is also used frequently21. Only few intellectuals have protested against the police actions. An open letter published by a weekly newspaper criticized the name of the "Action Stranger" in the summer/ autumn 1998 (because it seemed racist and inappropriate) as well as deportation methods22. The chairman of the Roma-Foundation, Kwiatkowski, limited his criticism and only demanded correct behaviour by policemen towards deportees. Criticism by the neighbouring countries affected, like the Ukraine, is sometimes more plainly spoken: after 30 deported persons complained in an open letter to the Ukrainian embassy, a newspaper in L'wiw thought back to the displacements 50 years ago: "Vistula 99: how the Polish police purged Sandomierz of Ukrainians." The following announcements were published by the anti-Fascist magazine "Nigdy wiecy" (Never again) with the headline: "Become an informer!"
"Since early December 1998 the border patrol in Warsaw has installed a free intervention phone regarding foreigners without valid papers. Under the free number, information about illegal entries or stay by foreigners can be given. Unfortunately we couldn't establish contact with the border guard. We only reached an answering machine where we could leave our information as to where and when "guests without passports" are staying. Once the information is received, a task force will be sent to the place to "take care" of the immigrants. As you can imagine, foreigners will be deported soon. Border guards guarantee their "friendly" informers' anonymity. Has the border guard's commander got a fondness for Stalinist times and an extended informer system?
It looks like it. It's expected that this phone will mobilise a lot of racists and nationalist chauvinists. Congratulation for such great ideas!"23.
To summarize, there is no doubt that the police try to search and arrest "illegal" people in Poland at "typical" places like common accommodation, bazaars, hotels, bed & breadfasts and job markets. The aim to make people without papers feel insecure through routine controls on streets and public places, to limit them in their room to move, to check and to arrest them, is, unlike Germany, not daily routine. The number of deportations seems to have grown since the foreigners law was enacted. For example, the already quoted statement by the police spokesman after the "Sandomierz" action, or a speech by a border patrolman at an international conference in Warsaw in May 1999. Groups and circles with doubts about an increasing number of deportations rely on press reports. But it is hard to judge if the media know about all the raids and deportations. Caritas members assume immigration is regulated less by controls in the interior and more through the reinforcement of border control. The Polish government is also interested in extending legal instruments as fast as possible for defining people as "illegal" and criminal in the sense of violation against the foreigners law. [back to top]
Refugee organisations and support groups
In Poland there are a few bodies, among them also government-financed organisations, working with refugees. These are briefly introduced below: First, there is the Helsinki Foundation On Human Rights, an institution of the UNHCR. In their Warsaw office, they offer free legal advice to refugees who want to start asylum proceedings or protest against a negative decision. The charity has also published a multilingual leaflet giving information on asylum proceedings in Poland and an address list of important organisations/institutions which is handed out at the border stations. However, we do not know whether the persons affected receive it.
Furthermore, there are the Caritas Poland offices in several cities, among them Bialystok and Lublin (near the eastern border of Poland) and Zgorzelec (at the German-Polish border). Apart from legal advice, refugees can also get material help like clothes, household goods and medical aid, occasionally also financial support. Caritas Poland is supported by the German Raphaelswerk. In particular cases, the Polish Red Cross bears the costs for medical treatment. Furthermore, there is the Government-financed Polish Humanitarian Action (Polska Akcja Humanitarna) which does not continuously look after refugees in Poland, but, for Example, organised relief convoys for the refugees from Kosova during the NATO war in Yugoslavia.
The above-mentioned organisations give well-directed support primarily to asylum seekers, which means - at least temporarily - to a legalised group. Only in exceptional cases are they the refuge for illegalised people. The decision of most institutions and their staff to restrict themselves to the work with asylum seekers follows the common differentiation between 'economic refugees' and 'victims of persecution', leading to further exclusion of people without papers.
The organisation 'La Strada' in Warsaw is doing public relations work against the different forms of the trade in women and has until recently mostly supported Polish women and girls in the West who wanted to get out of prostitution and return to Poland.
For about a year 'La Strada' has maintained an advice telephone in Russian to address the increasing number of prostitutes from the former Soviet Union and Bulgaria who work in Poland.
Apart from these established organisations, there are so far only a few organised refugee groups and almost no independent initiatives or support groups from the left-wing spectrum whose work pursues more than merely charitable purposes. This can have different reasons. The lack of self-organisation is surely connected to the fact that a large proportion of the repressed people do not live constantly in Poland, but belong to the so-called commuters. For another, not insignificant, part of the migrants Poland is still only a transit country, therefore merely a (forced) stop on their way to the West. Only a small part stay in Poland for a longer period of time, building up social contacts or networks. The informal groups are rather secluded. That does not make it easier to establish contact with illegalised people. In our estimation, the lack of infrastructure of left-wing initiatives can probably be explained by the bad financial conditions, making it considerably difficult to build up concrete support. Hence, in the centre of social and political discussions is rather the social and economic transformation process and parallel industrial action.
In addition, the financial support of the West to promote the establishment of NGO's, after the breakdown of the Eastern bloc, has contributed to a hasty institutionalisation of many initiatives, and channelled the resistance movement before there was a chance for articulation and development in the new political environment.
Therefore, apart from a few exceptions, most of the feminists are more or less engaged in established organisations and thus restricted in their political field of action, since combining political concerns and paid work often requires a 'moderate' position. [back to top]
The methods in the refugee camps, and above all the new Polish foreigner law and immigration policy, show widespread conformity with German refugee and immigration policy. Deportations and raids are usually accepted without great public protest as political measures 'belonging to Europe' and almost everybody in the country wants 'to belong'.
In 1998, on the occasion of a visit by a delegation of EU experts to Poland to check the effective installation of the PHARE program, they described the situation as follows: The security at the German-Polish border is almost 'satisfactory', whereas the surveillance at the Eastern border does not yet meet the requirements of the Schengen agreement (in spite of the fact that even today the East-Polish border control is actively supported by GROM, a special anti-terror unit, and the military). While the EU delegates proposed using all financial aid to solve the remaining technical inadequacies and the staff problems on the eastern border, in the interior the emphasis is placed on the smooth execution of the readmission agreements and the reinforcement of the deportation machinery. To obstruct this policy in Poland of an increased tightening of the borders against refugees and immigrants, or at least to question it, will take a lot more in future than a few critical voices in the media. [back to top]
KIRA (The cake is there for all of us!)
1 Only the Catholic fundamentalist and/or nationalist parties and organisations are an exception. They demonize the EU and foreign capital, sometimes using openly anti-Semitic arguments.
2 At the 1997 EU summit in Amsterdam, the Schengen contract was included in the European contract by the 15 EU countries and is binding for all members and potential candidates.
3 In the past, the obligation for White Russians and Russians to hold a visa has repeatedly led to protests by the White Russian population, including the government and the opposition. See Transodra, October 1998, Page 10.
4 This text is partly taken from the text of the Research Institute for Flight and Migration (FFM): The refugee and immigration policy in Poland, see Transodra 19 February 1999, pages 30-35.
5 See UNHCR: Overview of Readmission Agreements in Central Europe, 1993.
6 Katarzyna Glabicka: Przerzut migrantow do i przez terytorium Polski (Transportation of migrants to or through Poland), Institute for Migration Research at Warsaw University, Issue 22, page 29
7 Compare FAZ, 28 August 1998
8 PHARE is an aid program for the economic reorganisation of the East European countries. After the decision of 24 countries in 1989, the co-ordination was assigned to the EU commission while the EU and its members are responsible for the allocation of ca. 50% of the funds. In 1992 the EU council decided to include the program in a strategy plan running for several years. Compare Werner Weidenfeld, Wolfgang Wessels (Publisher): Europe A-Z, Bonn 1997.
9 Gazeta Wyborcza (G.W.) dated 12 January 2000.
10 In Poland the proceeding 'to receive refugee status' (status uchodzcy) is comparable to the German asylum proceedings corresponding to the Geneva convention. The Polish asylum procedure (azyl) has practically no importance, as it is almost never applied. Whenever asylum proceeding (azyl) is mentioned in this article, the Polish procedure 'to receive refugee status' is meant.
11 The number of deportations is similarly 'low': In 1998, 7,955 people received deportation orders; in Germany the yearly figure is ca. 50,000. Compare also the article included in this book regarding the situation in Germany.
12 Marek Okolski: Najnowszy ruch wedrowkowy z Ukrainy do Polski (the newest migration from Ukraine to Poland), Institut for research on Migration, dossier no.14, Warsaw 1997, p. 45-51
13 see Lukowski: Czy Polska stanie sie krajem migracyjinym? (Will Poland became an immigration country?), Institut for Research on Migration, dossier no.12, Warsaw, p.11
14 see Okolski, p. 50
15 see Okolski, p. 48-49 and Lukowski, p. 12
16 the information for this chapter are from an article of Kinga Olgyay-Stawikowska (she is working for the department of the interior in Poland), which is published in a bulletin of the womens organisation 'Oska' under the titel: "Handel kobietami i prostytucja" (trafficking on women and prostitution).
17 Glos Szczecinski, 04.21.96
18 G. W. 10.29.1998
19 see Lodzinski, p. 110 f.
20 G.W. 05.19.1999
21 see Okolski, p. 53, Maciej Mrozowski: Obraz imigranta na lamach prasy polskiej (the picture of immigrants in the polish press), Research Institut of migration, dossier no.1, Warzaw 1997, p. 25-28, also an interview with the caritas in Lublin
22 see weekly paper 'Wprost', 12.13.98 and Transodra, october 98, p. 15
23 anti-facist newspaper "Nigdy wiecej", Summer 99 [back to top]