Chechen Behind A Fence
We present Jerzy Danielewicz’s article about the controversies over establishing refugee center in Katowice. The text was published in the weekly Polish magazine Polityka.
The centers for refugees are not being established where they should be. The foreigners accommodated by hundreds in former workers’ hotels have no chances for integration. The case of Katowice shows how it ends.
The Office for Foreigners is not obliged to consult local government if it wants to open a center for refugees somewhere. This is the reason why the authorities of Katowice stay in front of fait accompli.
It was May last year when the aliens appeared on Gliwicka Street. Somebody called the social care department claiming that they are strangely dressed, blackish by appearance, Russky by speech. – Not until the afternoon we received a fax from the Office for Foreigners saying that there would be a center at Klimczoka Street in Załęże district – says Małgorzata Moryń-Trzęsimiech, the head of the social care department of the Katowice municipality – And 300 people had already been living there since that morning.
– The Office does not have to consult anything. If we had to obtain the permission to open a center, 99% of those wouldn’t have been established – explains Ewa Piechota, the Office Spokesman for Foreigners. Yet she adds that the situation was exceptional. Suddenly the inflow of Russian Federation citizens, mostly Chechens that were coming to Poland to apply for a refugee status, increased several times. Several up to 30 people on average ask for asylum on the border every day. There are more of them but the border guard sends information with alarming exclamations to the Office. And just before Poland entered to the Schengen zone there were up to even 200 asylees every day.
The Office has 20 centers, both owned and leased, where the foreigners wait for granting a refugee status. In Dębak near Warsow, where everyone has to come first, the beds had to be taken out on corridors. Epidemiological threat had arisen, the children were becoming ill in large numbers. – We were ready for the increase of the number of refugees but no one had predicted such crowds. – Ewa Piechota explains – We had to open new centers quickly. There was no time for talks. We were searching in the whole country, we had to find accommodation for the people.
From the beginning the municipality of Katowice kept informing the Office that the location is not good. Załęże is a district of many problems. Crime, social pathology – it’s like adding poverty to poverty. And the people there are not prepared to accept strangers. The refugees settled at Klimczoka Street in the former workers’ hotel that had been adapted to suit their needs. Lots of pregnant women, more than hundred children. Summer came, the children were playing on the streets because there is neither a playground nor a sports pitch near the center.
– Screaming all day long. The children were playing as they could. Scratching cars, making wars. The men were pushy. – says Magda, aged 20, an inhabitant of a tenement nearby.
That is why the Poles from Klimczoka Street – apart from the young misses from the secondary school coming at the center to pick up handsome terrorists – didn’t fall in love with the Chechens. But the thing that outraged them most was a rumor that the foreigners get 70 zlotys a day for their own expenses from the European Union funds (they actually receive 70 zlotys, yet for a whole month). – The don’t go to work, they spend a lot of money shopping in Auchan, and I have to slave 12 hours a day in Rossmann to make money to pay for my school. – complains Magda. Her mother is more exact – They snitched a radio from my car. How could I know it weren’t the Poles? Our thieves brake the window and they leg it. And those here drilled the lock. Costs: 100 zlotys for the radio, 180 for the lock. Piotr, a miner over 50 that lost his job in Kleofas, joins the grumbling – They were driving Beamers, hanging satellites in their windows and still the state was paying for it. Mother: – And they were trafficking drugs. Miner: – And the young bear knives to school. They are wild at heart. Magda: – They are spitting non-stop.
Izabella Kminikowska, Katowice’s councilor from Załęże, doesn’t blame the city dwellers. As according to the local people the situation looks like this: after the collapse of mills and mines there were tragedies in many families. Nobody lend a helping hand to them. And the aliens have everything for free. And no one is able to explain to the coal miner that the Chechen children spit because in the period of Ramadan during the day they mustn’t swallow anything. Even saliva. If truth be told the Chechen children spit out of habit beyond the time of Ramadan, but in general this custom has religious roots. Every boy aged 16 is treated as an adult ready to defend his family. That is why many of them have knives – the symbol of adulthood. The councilor has no doubts that the Office for Refugees had made a mistake not having warned the dwellers of the establishment of the center.
The councilors, the school and even the social care center, although the foreigners are not under its guardianship, tried to repair everything that the Office had neglected on their own. Evangelic and catholic parishes were also involved. There was an integration picnic organized on the school area – with games for children, clowns and culinary exchange for parents. The children attending school learned Polish quickly, they somehow found themselves in the new environment, even though it wasn’t easy. Because it is impossible to compare the life experiences of Polish teenagers with the experience of a 13-year old Chechen who is not able to forget the sight of a bandit throwing his uncle’s head that had just been cut off on his knees.
– Chcechen women were coming to me with the requests for help – says councilor Kminikowska. – The ordinary inhabitants of Katowice were also helping them. The center needed cribs and baby carriages as the Chechen fertility is much higher than the Polish standard. These were mainly residents of other districts who were helping. The further from the problem, the higher sensitivity. It seemed things would work out. But the municipality of Katowice was obstinately sending letters to the Office for Foreigners claiming that the location of the center was unwise and causes problems to the city.
The center was closed at the end of January. – If there’s a huge opposition, you just can’t work. There has to be a tacit consent at least. – Ewa Piechota explains the decision. It is the first time such a thing happened, she emphasizes.
In autumn, when the municipality of Katowice was protesting about Chechens in Załęże, the Office for Foreigners was recognizing Jastrzębia Góra to see what chances were there to open a center. The local authorities were not informed – in accordance with the law – of the visit. The dwellers took the back door to find out. They set up a defense committee and made a start on writing protest letters. They were predicting a collapse of tourism in Jastrzębia Góra after the Chechens would have arrived. They also noticed that the center for refugees might be a potential base camp for terrorists if they wanted to blow up the nuclear power station in Żarnowiec, which is not there but it could be.
Adam Dżeżdżon, the mayor of Władysławowo that includes Jastrzębia Góra, asked the Office about its plans. The answer came that there would be no center here after all. Some of the refugees from Katowice landed in a center in Łomża, although the local authorities had been signalizing earlier that there had been problems with refugees. Young Chechens go in groups, although they are not aggressive but that creates the atmosphere of a threat. So the pupils were placed in different schools. – The state doesn’t support integration, it provides just a roof over one’s head and some food. The rest is on the shoulders of local governments. But the Polish Government is the one to handle them. – claims Marcin Sroczyński, the deputy mayor of Łomża.
Although the center in Katowice was closed, the problem remains. The building in Załęże – now called the lodging facility – is still inhabited by about 60 Chechens. In the meantime, three families obtained the refugee status and now pay for rent.
For two years Adam, a 24-year old, has been waiting for granting him the status of a refugee. He came to Poland from somewhere around Grozny with his wife and daughter. His family receives 1300 zlotys from the Office, 400 zlotys of which they pay for a room. Adam helps the chief of the elders in managing the Chechen elements. There are lots of problems, so the chief put up a sheet of paper on the door saying: “Good men, please don’t knock as I will not open anyway”. – I’d like to get the status, residence permit, they will taught me to speak Polish and I’ll be a security guard in a hotel or a shopping center – says Adam about his dreams. As for now he lives off the money given by the state and his aunt that sends him some euro from Germany every two weeks. Adam says it happens that someone tries to insult him by calling a terrorist, but he doesn’t attach to it a bigger significance. According to him, the Chechens – to a large extent – have only got themselves to blame. – You have to watch the children to be sure that they don’t beat Poles and behave well. And the women let them run wild sometimes. The only thing he doesn’t like is the discrimination at work. Illegally working, for example at a construction site, a Chechen gets 40-50 zlotys a day. And a Pole gets twice as much.
According to the data gathered by the Office for Foreigners, there are 4.2 thousand people living in 20 Polish centers and additional 1.5 living outside the centers. The vast majority of them are Chechens. In 2008 only 129 people obtained a refugee status and 1057 were taken under, so called, ‘supplementary protection’ – they cannot be expelled and for a one year period they are provided with social security benefits . The Office, according to Ewa Piechota, is obliged to provide a foreigner with social care only during the asylum procedure, which usually takes two years. The examining of an application itself takes about a year. After having obtained the status of a refugee, the foreigner is included for one more year in, so called, ‘individual integration program’. He has to learn Polish, on which he receives 100 zlotys a month. He gets between 500 and 900 zlotys depending on the number of the members in his family. A large family gets couple of thousand. If during that year the refugee doesn’t find a job, which is a general rule, he starts living off the local government. Here he can count on – just like a Pole – temporary and special benefits. Between 400 and 600 zlotys altogether.
In Łomża more than 300 people are waiting for the refugee status. – If they got it all in the same time, the budget of the district would have a thin time – sighs Wiesław Jagielak , the Director of the Municipal Social Welfare Center. – Fortunately when the benefits of the individual integration program end, many leave to other countries as the Polish benefits are too low for them.
The attitude of the local community towards the residents of the centers for foreigners could be defined as friendly curiosity – as it was shown in the research conducted by the Social Politics Institute last year. The same study showed that the neighbors of the centers were complaining on the aggression, scuffles, rows and peace disturbance. The friendly curiosity ends usually when the foreigners settle the neighboring building.
In Austria – a country more experienced than Poland in the issues of providing asylum – every of the nine lands is obliged to give social care to the specific number of refugees. Unlike in Poland, they are not placed in facilities for several hundred people. Small pensions and centers for 30-40 people offer themselves.
– That’s the way to control a group, to teach them the language – says Ms. Ewa who runs a small pension near Salzburg. The Chechens occupied the whole third floor at her pension. Two lower stories were taken by the tourists. The state paid 15-17 euro for each refugee a day (accommodation and food). The boarding house had to keep high standards as it was controlled every couple of weeks. – The rates are not very high but still it is a fixed income – says Ms. Ewa – There were situations when the foreigners had lived for 3-4 years until they got the status of a refugee.
As for now the Polish Office for Foreigners is not planning to open new centers. The changes in the procedures are not intended either. And according to the Office – two years are enough to integrate a foreigner into the Polish society.
Translation: Mateusz Matysiak
Source: Polityka (Polityka –no. 14 (2699) of April 4, 2009; p. 23, Kraj).