From the promised land ... to the gutter?

Dominik Jabs

Those young Polish women and men, who have succeeded in earning their living, but began with a small amount of money, choose share accommodation. This is a challenge to priests. ‘Although one can be surprised by the number of Polish new immigrants who attend Mass in London’, notices Fr Krzysztof Tyliszczak. ‘Among the fourteen parishes the biggest one located in Ealing embraces 32,000-50,000 Poles and enjoys 35% of Sunday Mass attendance, but we have only four priests there’, he stresses. Furthermore, he adds that the present wave of immigration brought about revival of the Polish pastoral centres. For example, in a parish of 2,000 believers 700 people came from Hajnowka. They have their own parish priest who understands their religious expectations. The number of the estimated three million Poles who have immigrated has already become proverbial. In Great Britain, from May 2004 till December 2007, some 700,000 Polish people have registered themselves in order to have legal jobs. It is hard to estimate how many people work illegally. ‘Poles are mainly employed in the service industry, especially in the hotel trade and catering, in industry and agriculture. In the first months after our accession to the European Union the 18-34 group age left for Great Britain, most of them were single’, says Emilia Klepacka, daughter of the Polish emigrants in England, the director of the International Youth Covenant in Brussels, which aims at defending human dignity. ‘First of all, the inhabitants of small towns who think they have no future in their hometowns declare to leave Poland’, Klepacka stresses. The results of the research carried by the Polish Psychologists’ Club show that some part of the young immigrants is an enterprising and energetic social group. They face many problems but they treat them as the next steps of their careers. They are aware of social problems, cultural and generational differences and the role of individualism in a group. They do not assimilate with the social structures although they do not reject them. They count on themselves and do not expect any special help from others. They are rather ambitious and prove that they can be very self-reliant. What is more interesting, they do not want to admit that they are immigrants but say that they are the citizens of the European Union. The young Poles living in Great Britain are also characterised by the openness to move, lack of precise plans for life and to a large extent they do not want to return to Poland. Some of them are seasonal workers and students. The young people have been also involved in various non-profit organisations that are to help people to integrate and make them support one another. Others have joined existing organisations like the Polish Institute of Catholic Action in Great Britain or the Individual Members’ Circle belonging to the Federation of Poles in Great Britain. Immigrants begin publishing new newspapers, e.g. ‘Goniec Polski’ [Polish Messenger], ‘Cooltura’, ‘Polish Express’ or ‘Nowy Czas’ [New Time]. There are also radio stations and some forms of television programmes.

Honest work is nothing to be ashamed of

A serious problem is when someone takes up a job that is far beyond his, often high, qualifications. Nobody is surprised to hear about highly educated people who do the washing up in restaurants, carry guests’ suitcases in hotels or work as porters at airports. Kamila graduated in philosophy. But she is ashamed to give her name and even the name of her hometown. Her doctoral degree does not matter. ‘I am living in Leeds. For two years I have delivered newspapers. I earn three times more than I would earn working as a teacher of ethics or a lecturer in Poland. For some time I could not accept my job but now it is all over but the shame remained’, she says with sorrow. It is true that highly educated people have chances to get excellent jobs but if they are specialists in computer sciences, economics, etc. ‘They are all the rage on the British labour market, they make fortunes and can work 12-14 hours a day’, Fr Krzysztof Tyliszczak, Chancellor of the Polish Catholic Mission in England and Wales, explains. However, they are a group of Poles who do not think of integration because of their high income, character of their jobs and the closest environment, mainly consisting of foreigners. Even if they meet their fellow countrymen in their environment they talk to them in English. For many young people, especially for those who do not know the language, the first two or three years in England mean hard, poorly paid jobs in bad conditions. ‘Poor knowledge of English is the Achilles’ foot of the immigration’, Klepacka claims. English lessons for beginners are free of charge but if you want to find a job you need to know the language. And this is the vicious circle of immigrants. The lack of proper preparation has led many people to live somewhere in the street or under London Bridge or sleep on the lawn in front of the British Parliament. Deceived, unemployed, without any money and home. ‘Those who have burnt all bridges in Poland, who said that there was no future and hope for them in Poland, experience the biggest tragedy. Then they come to priests and demand their help and when they are proposed air tickets home they do not want to come back because of shame’, Fr Tyliszczak explains. He adds that some experience nervous breakdown and are taken to psychiatric wards.

Some commit suicide

It is families that suffer most from the effects of the new wave of immigration. The fact that husbands and wives are separated for months, which leads to loneliness, feeling of insecurity and sometimes to divorces, is not the only problem. We often have to deal with dramatic situation of children. It is good when all family members immigrate together. Children can learn many languages and they can also learn to be open their minds to other cultures. But sex education lessons in British schools and the slight parents’ influence on their contents can cause serious problems, not to mention giving young girls birth control pills causing early miscarriage and even the fact that school nurses can arrange secret abortions for teenagers without their parents’ knowledge. But the usual situation is that only parent leave abroad (one or both of them) and children are left in the country. ‘There are cases of mothers who leave their children in orphanages; they forced the orphanages to take their children threatening that otherwise they would leave their children at train stations’, says Dr Anna Fidelus from the Family Help Foundation. Orphanages are still regarded as proper places in such situations since they can take responsibility for children. Parents prefer to leave their children in such institutions than to leave them with their relatives because it seems to them that they still love their children and are jealous about the relatives’ feelings. They think that orphanages are neutral and children will not love anyone else there, but they could feel attached to their relatives. They leave their children and for egoistic reasons they do not want anyone to replace them. In any case the consequences of leaving children are severe. ‘The connection between children’s rejection and their criminal conducts is very obvious, but parents seem not to be aware of that. Abandoned children live in constant fear and chaos. They are afraid of their future. They cannot grow and function properly. They often blame themselves that their parents, or one parent, have gone abroad. Some become shy, inactive to get to know the world, they have difficulties at school, they cannot sleep and have headaches. They do not want to integrate with their environment, even with the parent who has remained at home. They even attack their parent and accuse him or her of the situation they have found themselves in. Some commit suicide’, Anna Fidelus says. Rev. Dr. Pawel Landwojtowicz, the director of the diocesan family-counselling centre in Opole, stresses the necessity of providing thorough care for the families who suffer from the results of the immigration in question. ‘In the region of Opole the tradition to immigrate has existed for several dozen years. Some villages have become literally empty. The number of those who experience the consequences of family separation is very big. Therefore, you need to implement three-phased system of help. Firstly, we need prevention – to reach those who plan to leave the country. Secondly, we need therapy – to help people solve family conflicts in the very beginning, to organise communication training, to help families rebuild their relationships, etc. Thirdly, we need rehabilitation – to help those who decide to return since then their problems are to begin; they need to adjust to the new situation and often to rebuild their relationships’, says Fr Landwojtowicz. The ultimate profit and loss balance concerning the immigration is a matter of time.

"Niedziela" 49/2007

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: