Poland opens the door to its neighbors | International
Yevhen Zhuk might have played the war card, but it wasn’t worth it. The 51-year-old Ukrainian arrived in Poland five years ago, with his wife and son, from a town near the Donbass region, plunged into conflict. He didn’t even consider applying for international protection: it was so easy to get a work permit in Poland itself, often touted as an anti-immigration stronghold, that he didn’t even think about it. “The Polish state doesn’t care what I’m here for, what matters is that I work,” he says in a Warsaw cafeteria during a break between delivery and delivery. He works at the Post Office and admits that his migration had “more to do with the standard of living” than with the conflict in his native region.
The first year, he says, was difficult, without knowing the language or the laws well. Four years later, he’s doing very well. He earns the equivalent of nearly 1,800 euros per month (above the average salary in Poland) thanks to his work as a delivery man and his two kiosks. For the first one alone, he earns five times more than he would in Ukraine, he calculates. “I know I would win more in other EU countries, but Poland was closer and it was easier to come. Besides, I am old enough to learn another language. And I don’t want to suffer anymore this first year. So I’d better work here and one day I’ll go on vacation to Tenerife, which is my big dream, ”he sums up with a laugh.
Zhuk is far from an exception. Last year Poland was the EU’s sixth-largest economy and needed a workforce to support its growth. Eurostat. In more than half a million cases, for professional reasons, particularly in sectors such as construction or new technologies. And there the Ukrainians are legion (a million in a country of 38 million inhabitants), although Belarusians (with an additional political dimension), Georgians, Nepalese, Russians or Armenians, among others, also migrate. to the country. Foreigners represent 5% of the country’s population, according to a government study.
“They are doing in Poland the work that the Poles do in Western Europe”, explains Aleks Szczerbiak, professor of political science at the University of Sussex and specialist in contemporary Polish politics. “They cover the job shortages generated by EU membership. A Pole can earn a lot more in other EU capitals for the same job, ”he adds. It is a kind of displacement of the work towards the West. In Warsaw, for example, it is easy to see Ukrainians in the same jobs (on the construction site, in a cleaning contract or as restocker in a supermarket) as in Spain, France or Italy it would not be surprising to see a Pole. Also as doctors or in information technology.
Poland, one of the most ethnically and religiously homogeneous European countries, has maintained a firm stance these weeks (supported by the EU) in the face of the thousands of migrants, mostly Kurds, crowded at its border to enter illegally, in a maneuver orchestrated by the Belarusian regime. He enthusiastically fires the vast majority of those who succeed, which is illegal. Moreover, in 2015, when the EU put in place a quota system for the distribution of refugees from that year’s crisis, it refused – along with Hungary and the Czech Republic – to take its part, to barely a few thousand. “They were Muslims. And Poland felt that accepting them meant choosing multiculturalism, ”Szczerbiak adds.
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“A huge role”
Dorota Heidrich, professor at the Faculty of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Warsaw, considers that the difference between the attitude of the government led by the ultra-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) towards the migrants to whom it provides employment contracts and residence permits – Ukrainians and Belarusians have a similar language and culture – and those he sends back do not only have to do with the fact that the former are in a legal situation and that the seconds try to sneak illegally. “Their status as Muslims plays a huge role, it makes them a symbol of the threat. If they were Belarusians, they would already be there, ”he says by phone. Zdzisław Racki, a lawyer specializing in immigration matters, explains that citizens of Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Georgia and Armenia have a special working regime that makes it easier to hire them. All five are majority Christian countries.
Kristina Prykhalko waits for an order at a fast food restaurant in Warsaw East Station. His bike is parked outside and he’s carrying one of the famous backpacks from home delivery company Glovo. For her, it is a temporary job (to be able to send money to her family in Ukraine) in a temporary home, a kind of stopover in other EU countries.
He doesn’t speak more than four Polish words to process orders, and he doesn’t need them either. At the age of 19, he studied Information Technology in English. “For this type of study, here you have a lot of universities that accept you. And it’s a lot cheaper than other options I’ve looked at, like Spain, France, or England. Obtaining the visa is very easy. As for work, I get 25 zlotys (5.3 euros) an hour. In Ukraine, I would never win that, ”he explains.
Ukrainians totaled 72.6% of 406,000 work permits last year, according to data from the central statistics office released last May. 97% weren’t extensions, which shows just how prevalent the option to come for a few months, save, and come back is. The pandemic has slowed progress, but the trend is clear, with 340,000 more permits than in 2015.
The second largest group, with just under 10% of new work permits, were citizens of Belarus, another culturally close border country. Most have residence permits of Polish origin. One party is also receiving some sort of humanitarian visa for suppressing the opposition after last year’s elections.
Among the group of Polish origin is Uladzislau Prapushniak, 29, an Uber driver in the capital, where he arrived four years ago. “It was easy to get the green card. It was more or less enough to make a call and show that the name of my ancestors was in a file ”.
Prapushniak switches the conversation between the main reason he packed his bags – the financial reason – and the political complaint. ” I feel much better. Here you can progress. The policy was just an addition, although it is only true if you hang the white and red flag [la original del país, que usa la oposición] They can put you in jail for as long as they want. I have my family there and I want to go back there, but not right away, which is ruled by old people and which is deteriorating, ”he underlines.
This is not the case with her compatriot Natalia Stsepantsova. She lives in Bialystok, the main city in the northeast of the country, 50 kilometers from Belarus, where she settled 20 years ago, aged 28. Her husband had to flee in a hurry because of “a political problem mixed with a commercial problem”. and she followed him months later. “There is a kind of solidarity between those who arrived before and those who arrived after the elections. We support each other and tell each other that everything will be fine, ”he said.
The Zhuk factor must return on delivery. But first he wants to talk about his house in Belarus, located in the forest next to a river. He hired a company to assemble photovoltaic panels and thus have free electricity in 10 years, when he retires and returns to his native country. “Yes”, he clarifies, “I hope that then there will be no war. “Her son, on the other hand, already married to a Polish woman,” will stay here. 100 % “.
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