Center for Refugees in Łomża is to be Closed
The Polish newspapers Gazeta Wyborcza and Gazeta Wspolczesna reported that the Center for Refugees in Łomża will be close in June 2010. And “Foundation Salvation (Fundacja Ocalenie)” published a statement on this issue.
Although a formal decision on the closure has not been taken, Office for Foreigners acknowledges that one of the refugee centers in Podlaskie region of Poland will close.
“We take into account seriously the closure of the center in Łomża. We see that the tension between asylum seekers and local people are growing up. Thus the center is not good for proper functioning of the facility and it cannot serve the people who have trauma in their past. This will be hard for asylum seekers we know but sometimes you have to choose the lesser of two evils” said Ewa Piechota, spokeswoman of Polish Office for Foreigners in Warsaw.
“The problem has outgrown for our capacity. For a solution the Government must find a system” said Jerzy Brzeziński, Major of Łomża city.
“It is very good information both for Łomża residents and asylum seekers. It has a mean that the arguments which I presented was proved” said Polish MP Lech Kolakowski who had appealed to Office for Foreigners to close the refugee camp.
“Is it a correct decision on closure of refugee center in Łomża? Isn’t it a violation of Geneva Convention” said Tadeusz Iwiński, Polish MP and Vice Chairman of Parliamentary Commission for EU, appealed to Polish Ministry of Internal Affairs.
More than 100 asylum seekers -mostly Chechens- stay in the center for refugees in Łomża, a small city of Poland and several hundreds of Chechen live in the city outside of the center. The current rental agreement for the building of centre is valid until June. After June, Chechen asylum seekers has to choose another center for themselves.
“Foundation Salvation (Fundacja Ocalenie)” accused Polish MP Lech Kolakowski on this decision. And the foundation published a statement.
Here the message of Foundation Salvation:
The press has recently informed that the Center for Refugees in Łomża is to be closed. The decision was made due to the protests of the citizens, and statements and letters of the parliament member Lech Kołakowski. Since 2008, the Fondacja Ocalenie (Foundation Salvation) has been informing Office for Foreigners of the situation in Łomża and of the emerging of the votes against Chechen’s presence in the town. In September 2009, Mr. Lech Kołakowski has decided to do everything in his power to liquidate the Refugee Centre. His strategy was to present refugees as criminals threatening the community, His evidences do not reflect the police statistics (There were 792 crimes committed in Łomża in 2009, the refugees are responsible for 5 of them.) After the speech that Mr. Kołakowski addressed to the people of Łomża, two Chechen women were beaten up by their Polish neighbours. Mr. Kołakowski denied his anti-refugees sentiments and even promised to help those living in Łomża. However, around the same time, Mr. Kolakowski’s followers formed a group and started collecting signatures against the Center for Refugees in their town. Strange thing is that the return address appearing on the petition was Mr. Kolakowski’s parliamentary office, which also served as a meeting place of the group. There are also anti-Chechen stickers posted all over Łomża and anti-refugees forums on local web-sites.
The question that emerges is what did government do to ease the situation in Łomża? Did anyone from the Office for Foreigners talked with the town residents? Someone may say that there was no need for action because the Foundation “Ocalenie” operates in Łomza and it is their duty to integrate the refugees and their Polish neighbours. It is true that since 2008 we strive to integrate refugees and Łomża’s citizens. We have a Consultation Point for the refugees, we organize cultural meetings and polish language classes, we teach Chechen children national dances. We organize series of workshops for refugees and staff of the institutions working with refugees. We also run workshops for children in schools. We cooperate with institutions such as the Municipal Social Assistance Centre, schools and police. In the light of recent events that took place in Łomża we strongly suggest that the government should take more action in applying its policy towards refugees. Providing food and shelter is not enough, we should focus more on trying to integrate the refugees and the local community. It is not surprising that the emergence of a group of people who speak a different language, look different and have a different religion can be disturbing. We should talk with the representatives of local community even before we establish a new Center for The Refugees, and monitor people`s moods to prevent an escalation of problems that arise and will arise in relations between the refugees and Poles. Right now the government is placing the centers often in random places (e.g. Katowice), without analyzing what the city is able to offer to refugees (work, housing, social moods.) . The only solution suggested by the Office for Foreigners is to wait until the situation resolves itself, and when it escalates- to close the center (Katowice, Lomza). At the moment shelters for refugees in the big cities are being closed (Katowice, Łomża, Warsaw) and the remaining Centers for the Refugees are placed in the country side (Czerwony Bór, Linin, Puste Łąki).
Łomża managed to create a well-functioning system of cooperation in the assistance to the refugees (working group meeting for the refugees, cooperation with local governments, municipal social assistance centers, schools, police). The conference organized by the Foundation “Ocalenie” in January 2010 in Łomża was attended by about 50 people working with refugees in various institutions. During the conference, local government representatives have expressed outrage of the anti-Chechen views. Łomża city council also condemned the acts of aggression and xenophobia towards refugees. Many polish families has Chechen friends, Chechen and Georgian children go to local schools and kindergardens. This is why government’s lack of action is so disturbing. Especially since those expressing their objections towards the refugees remain anonymous which makes them less reliable as the representatives of people in Łomża. . We understand the fact that the situation in the town is difficult and that in the long run the transfer of the center to another location may be necessary but we believe that making such a decision under pressure of xenophobic arguments will have very negative consequences. This situation may not only harm the people who live in the Center but also those who made their way and setteled in Łomża. Nobody wants to live in the place where he or she does not feel welcome. Another matter that the Office for Forigners ignores is that these acts of aggression may transfer to another places where refugees have their centers. And that would be a very dangerous phenomenon!