Warsaw, as the capital city and a metropolitan area, is a city in which many foreigners stay, live, work and study. Warsaw and Mazowieckie Province are the main areas of concentrations of immigrants in Poland, assembling more than 30 per cent of all foreigners who have been issued a residence permit in our country. Their number has been growing every year, and after Poland’s accession to the EU, the dynamics of this phenomenon increased. Only the social and political transformation of 1989 influenced the possibility of a revaluation of ethnic assessment and discovery or searching for the ethnic identity of individual minorities. The multicultural character of Warsaw is now very different from that of the pre-war period – it has been strengthened by the arrival of new ethnic groups – Vietnamese, Chinese and Africans – and inflow of people from beyond the eastern borders of Poland. At present, there are about 5,600 foreigners registered as permanent residents of the capital city (mostly Vietnamese, Russians and Ukrainians). As for other forms of residence of foreigners in the city, we can speak of tens of thousands – it is estimated that there are about 150,000 foreigners living in Warsaw right now, constituting 9 per cent of the entire population of the city. Foreigners living in Warsaw include Russians, Vietnamese, Africans, Hindus, Chinese, Ukrainians, Americans and citizens of many EU member states. Some come to Warsaw for a short time, for business purposes; others study at universities or search for a job. Some of them could be met around the main bazaars of Warsaw and in market halls. Some of them find jobs in construction, gardening and various services. Conversely, others are teachers, academic lecturers, doctors and artists. They are also the employees of many foreign companies having branches in Warsaw (see WP3 city report). At the same time, immigrants living in Warsaw who are EU citizens or highly qualified specialists are a minority. Most foreigners in Warsaw, that is citizens of non-EU countries, who are not refugees, who have not been granted complementary protection or permanent residence permit, are not offered any social support by the state. Such immigrants are one of the most vulnerable groups in the city, especially in terms of the labour market and housing.
43.1. Short description
The Foundation for Development Beyond Borders was established in 2006 by a group of Poles and Belarusians, who had recently graduated from the university. The main goal was to develop cooperation between activists from Poland and Belarus, but shortly the organisation changed its focus and set up activities to support immigrants in Warsaw, especially from Eastern Europe (Ukraine and Belarus). This change of interests was forced by the growing demand on the side of immigrants and the experiences of the founders of this organisation. The role of the foundation is broadly described as follows:
From the East and from the West, we had seen the same border, which is why we decided to establish Foundation for Development Beyond Borders. The Foundation works to bring closer nations, societies and states of Eastern and Central Europe through sharing knowledge and raising awareness about common cultural background and common interests. The Foundation works to impact activity and participation of immigrants, which helps to foster bonds between nations and societies of the home country and the receiving country. Another important goal of the Foundation is to develop mutual contacts, as well as regional and international cooperation among the entities that also work to solve social, economic, cultural and legal issues. We aim to raise the professional level of authorities who are responsible for implementing active social policies and specialists who work for public or social services. It is also the Foundation’s goal to promote the countries of the Central and Eastern Europe and the region as a whole.
(Foundation for Development Beyond Borders)1
43.2. Conceptions and ways of addressing users
The Foundation for Development Beyond Borders was established by a group of Poles and immigrants from Belarus. The activities currently implemented by the organisation are often strictly related to personal experiences of migrants – founders of this organisation:
And there was this time, we were finishing university, starting our new careers, and this was something new for all of us, a new field. Also, as some of us had experienced it very personally what Schengen was, and the difficulties experienced by foreigners, entering, for instance the labour market…. there are many things that are related to existence of such people, who come over. It is like, well, it’s because we all had to experience it and transform it somehow. On our own.
Now, the foundation implements two main projects: “Migration and Integration in Practice” and “Multidimensional challenges: researching the potential of integration of immigrants in Poland”. Both of them are co-financed by the European Fund for Integration of non-EU Immigrants and the state budget.
The aim of the first project is to run an advice centre for immigrants who arrive in Warsaw. The advice focuses on the issues of legalising their stay and work in Poland, which implies constant monitoring of the legislation concerning immigrants. The immigrants may contact the office, make phone calls and visit. Most often, they need legal advice in terms of interpretation of legislation that concerns legalisation of stay, mixed marriages, functioning of the labour market and relations between employees and employers, as well as searching for apartments in Warsaw. They are very often interested in getting assistance in translation of documents and legislative acts, as a great majority of these are only available in Polish:
These are in fact, starting with, it’s anything, including legal matters. The problem usually is, you have access to information as such. You come here and you don’t speak Polish. And the legislation, even though there is this act on Polish language, it is not applied in practice. And we are dealing with a situation, in which, these people come and they have to comply with specific legislation and they have no idea how. And there are many problems in this regard, because there are many people, who do the translations. We are not licensed to render legal services, this is consulting.
Apart from individual advice, the foundation also organises training for immigrants and workshops on functioning of the labour market, healthcare and the social insurance system in Poland. Another service of great importance is Polish language classes. The classes cover all levels, from beginners to advanced. Subsidised by the EU, the classes are addressed primarily to people who come from countries outside the EU and have lived in Poland for less than 5 years. Thanks to the subsidy, the price of the course is only about 75 euros for 3 months. Recently, the foundation has added English language courses to the scope of its services. This is aimed at strengthening the future position of immigrants in the labour market in Poland. Also, the foundation offers unique workshops on creative writing for immigrants who know Polish well, but would like to develop their literary skills. Another part of the project is to encourage migrants and their employers to describe their experiences on the Polish job market as part of a yearly competition. Apart from that, the most recent news about how immigrants function in the context of Polish legislation is presented on a bi-weekly radio programme produced in cooperation with the Polish Radio“WNET”. Also part of the project, the Discussion Club seeks to initiate debate about problems experienced by migrants and the ways to solve them. The club creates a more casual atmosphere for a conversation about issues that are of importance to immigrants. The recipients of these activities are mostly immigrants – citizens of non-EU countries, who do not have a permanent residence permit in Poland or whose status has not been regulated. Thus, these are foreigners not entitled to any support from the Polish state. At the same time, their countries of origin vary greatly:
… a great majority are citizens of Ukraine, that’s for sure. Then we have a broad selection of members of the former USSR republics, including Belarus, Russia, Moldova, Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan. These are statistically significant groups. Then we have Africa, Asia, there is the community of China, Vietnam – there have been several people, although statistically, they are a bit more numerous in Warsaw. There are many clients from India, Turkey, Nepal, Bangladesh… There is an increasing group from Latin America. We have clients from Canada and the States and New Zealand, and Japan, and Australia.
It should also be underlined here that the project discussed is a continuation of earlier activities of the Foundation for Development Beyond Borders – the “Welcome Centre in Warsaw” project, which has become a model example of support on behalf of immigrants, and thus became a basis for functioning of this organisation. The Welcome Centre project, which was managed in cooperation between the Foundation for Development Beyond Borders, the Foundation for Social Diversity and the foundation “Our Choice”, was aimed at creating a stable advice centre for immigrants living in Warsaw. Starting in April 2009, a team of specialists speaking Russian, Ukrainian, French and English offered free services to foreigners, including legal, job and psychological advice. Moreover, as part of the project, the team continued to offer advice services addressing specific needs of certain groups of immigrants – for example to the parishioners of the Greek-Catholic church at Miodowa Street or salesmen in Wolka Kosowska. The key element of the advice activities was issues related to obtaining work and residence permits, but also functioning in Polish society and knowing Polish norms or customs.
The launch of advisory services at the foundation’s office in central Warsaw was preceded by opening of several consultation and advisory units in those locations in which most immigrants could be encountered. This was sort of a strategy of “reaching out to immigrants”, establishing contacts with them in places familiar and well known to them:
… we started to get duty-hours, sort of, like inspections. The Stadium of the Decade was a facility like that, there was also Wólka Kosowska, where we got this mobile advisory outlet. We would walk around and talk to people, asking about their problems. This was sort of an opportunity to go out, to look at how people respond to these things… and then there was the issue of establishing the consulting outlets in the Orthodox Church at Miodowa Street, in the Orthodox church at Wileńska Street. There were duty hours there, quite often, and later on we also tried with the ethnic eateries.
The second of the current projects of the Foundation for Development Beyond Borders is focused on research. The main goal of this project is to deepen knowledge about the integration of foreigners living in Poland by researching and analysing the current conditions of this process and editing a final report, which will serve as a compilation of knowledge about the problems and needs of migrants, used by key stakeholders who influence the integration of foreigners living in Poland. The innovative part of this research is that it treats the integration of foreigners as a process in a complex, inter-disciplinary manner, includes the pre-emigration phase, the conditions in the country of origin and an analysis of attitudes in the receiving society. This research was conducted on a group of migrants from former Soviet countries who, according to the official statistics, comprise the largest group of foreigners living in Poland.
Moreover, the Foundation for Development Beyond Borders is engaged in lobbying at the local and state administration level, it issues opinions on the changes introduced and postulated in Polish legislation on foreigners. In 2012 the foundation has also been actively engaged in lobbying on behalf of abolition for foreigners staying in Poland illegally and it conducted social campaigns to propagate abolition among illegal immigrants.
43.3. Internal organisation and modes of working
The foundation’s office is located in downtown Warsaw. The organisation rents the premises with office space, the consultation outlet and a room used for Polish and English language classes and the discussion club meetings. There are no full-time employees – at present, nineteen persons are engaged in projects on the basis of temporary contracts. The foundation also takes advantage of the services of several volunteers who offer translation services and can accompany the immigrants, e.g. during visits to various public offices or healthcare institutions. At the beginning, the activities of the foundation were not very formalised. Strong demand for consulting and advisory services for foreigners emerged in 2008, when Poland was included in the Schengen zone. This complicated the procedures of travel and legalisation of stay of foreigners – citizens of non-EU countries, who, at the same time, started to come to Poland due to its increasing attractiveness both as a transit country and as a final destination: “… at first, these consultations were different, not formalised. It was like this: somebody called somebody else and then you looked for someone, who had the experience, and it went like this – it was very much help-oriented” (WP5.Migrants1).
At present, the Foundation for Development Beyond Borders operates mainly on the basis of projects. The projects of the organisation (current and completed ones) are financed mainly by the European Fund for Integration of non-EU Immigrants (EIF), funds of the budget of the capital city of Warsaw and of other NGOs: Polish–American Foundation for Freedom and the Stefan Batory Foundation. Moreover, the sponsors include the Institute for Public Affairs and Microsoft. The organisation also takes advantage of support offered by various entities offering material help: the Second Hand Bank, the Office for Protection of Competition and Consumers, the Polish Association of Legal Education and the Forum on Behalf of Social Diversity. The Foundation for Development Beyond Borders cooperates with other organisations and institutions acting on behalf of immigrants in Warsaw, such as the “Our Choice” Association for Ukrainians and the Warsaw parish of the Greek Catholic church.
43.4. Interaction with the local welfare system
In a situation in which state social assistance is granted only to selected categories of foreigners, that is, persons with Polish citizenship, refugees and persons granted subsidiary protection, as well as immigrants who have been granted a permanent residence permit in Poland, the operation of the foundation fills a significant gap. This is aimed at those foreigners who cannot count on state assistance; the most numerous group of immigrants in Warsaw and in Poland. Immigrants coming to Poland, including those who are culturally close to us, feel confused when they are forced to face the Polish legal system. They need help in getting through the jungle of legal provisions; at the same time, they need to be directed to the appropriate offices or institutions and told how to deal with specific matters. In particular, this is because immigrants from non-EU countries often come from small towns or villages, of a much smaller local scale. In the opinion of one of the beneficiaries of the foundation, an immigrant from Ukraine, this is the only place in Warsaw where assistance of this kind can be obtained:
Mainly, they come from Ukraine or Belarus. Regardless of the country, they need information. Legal information, it’s difficult to do anything, when you are unable to speak the language, when you need information on normal jobs, apartments, and simply information from the lawyers, how to deal with the papers, what to do, simply, there can be many things, when you don’t get paid, or you need a doctor… the “Welcome Centre” is the only place in Warsaw. Many people, who come here, are from small villages, there are people here, who don’t know the Internet. Well, not everyone has a laptop.
The activities of the foundation are also well known at the level of state institutions and diplomatic services of the countries of origin of the immigrants living in Warsaw. As it turns out, representatives of structures of this kind are also not always able to solve problems pertaining to foreigners: “There are (also) people, who do not report themselves, but they are reported by others, or people in hospitals. We get a phone call from the consulate: “our citizen has fallen off scaffolding, what are we supposed to do?” (WP5.Migrants1).
It is important that the abode of the Foundation for Development Beyond Borders, the discussion club, organised there in addition to Polish classes and social meetings, plays a very significant role of a space for establishing communication and exchanging experience with immigrants from different countries staying in Warsaw. Such places as the Greek Catholic Church or a restaurant managed by representatives of a specific ethnic group usually unite foreigners from specific countries. Lack of such space has been “noticed” only recently by employees of the city hall, who, in 2011, in consultation with more than ten TSOs working with immigrants, launched the Warsaw Multicultural Centre. It is difficult to predict what extent it will play a role in integration, as the centre does not have a permanent location, owing to lack of funds in the city budget.