Chechen Asylum Seekers Are Left in the Cold
Katarzyna Patalan-Brzostowska, a journalist from the Polish newspaper Gazeta Współczesna has reported on the current situation of Chechen asylum seekers in the city of Łomża in Poland, after the closing of the refugee center.
We present you with her article:
I was in Łomża. I can say that Chechen asylum seekers often live in terrible conditions. They have to pay up to a thousand złoty per month (around 255 Euro) for moldy rooms which have no heating or hot water. Nevertheless, after the liquidation of the refugee center in Łomża, most Chechens want to stay there, because they feel that they have become a part of the city.
“We are still searching for accommodations for some families. The ads are few, the prices are very high, and even the offered conditions are far away from those desired,” said Satsita Khumaidova, a worker from Fundacji Ocalenie (Foundation Salvation) which helps Chechen asylum seeker in Łomża.
I visited a house in Łomża where five Chechen families live. A plastered building is surrounded by a cluttered yard, which is very close to a busy street. Children run around the house. I walk inside to reach the room of Aza Mudaroveya. There is a sofa next to the mattress, a cupboard, an old refrigerator, a table covered with oilcloth and flowers and two stove burners. These are all the property of the family.
“For five years I’ve lived in Łomża with my husband and children. I have two children; one is a six year old girl and the other is a four year old boy. Now we live in this room. This room is our bedroom and kitchen. We sleep and cook here. We spend all of our time here. It is not easy and furthermore, my daughter goes to school,” said Aza.
I ask how they manage the heating problem, because there is not a radiator or furnace. I also see that the room has a window and water leaks from it. There is moisture on the walls and fungus emerges from every angle.
The woman looks down. After a moment, she picks up her one of the stove burners. “I keep them turned on because it is our only source of heat. Due to the gas, our heads hurt a little. The children are sick because of the moisture and cold. I sleep on the floor together with my husband. The children sleep on the couch to keep them warmer. I do not know what it will be like when the temperature drops. At that point, the two stove burners will not be enough,” she said.
It is hard to believe that this family pays a fortune for this room. “Monthly we pay 350 złoty (around 90 Euro) plus electricity, water and garbage removal. This month the owner asked for 580 złoty (around 150 Euro), because he says he used a lot of electricity. Although he asked for extra money, he refused to show us the electricity bill. For us it is an enormous sum, because monthly we only receive 800 złoty (around 200 Euro),” said Aza.
The Chechen woman searched for another apartment because the winter is just around the corner. “We are looking all the time. Recently we visited a house in Łomża. It was small, wooden, badly neglected and when we were there, a mouse ran across the floor. Per month, the owner asked us for 1000 złoty (around 255 Euro),” said Aza.
In the same building together with Aza’s family, some other Chechen families live. They are also in similar rooms. All of these residents share one mildewed bathroom. They do not have hot water or a heating system.
Among them, there is a pregnant Chechen woman. She did not want to introduce herself. She is very ill and had tuberculosis. She barely speaks the Polish language and lives on the ground floor. She is also in a tiny and shabby room. Soon, under these conditions she will have to raise her newborn child.
“More than half of the refugees, who live outside the center of Łomża, live in these conditions. We visit them with social workers,” said Satsita Khumaidova. She argued that the lack of heating and hot water is almost “standard” in the majority of flats rented by Chechens. Despite the poor quality of these apartments, Chechens are paying serious money for them.
In Łomża, as well as most parts of Poland, people are reluctant to rent their apartments to foreigners, especially Chechen asylum seekers.
“We often hear: if you do not like it, get out,” said Satsita.
“Once I wanted to take photographs to show the conditions in which Chechens live. The Chechens did not let me take them. The reason? They were afraid that the owners may recognize their apartments and throw them out. They want to stay in these slums rather than live in the open air,” said Kamil Kamiński from Fundacja Ocalenie.
“After the closing of the refugee center in Łomża, the officials offered to send asylum seekers to the Czerwonym Borze refugee center. It is very bad for Chechens as it is 15 kilometers away from Łomża and there are only two buses during the day. They have to depart the bus on a road which is 3 kilometers from the refugee center. After all, their children have to attend their classes in Łomża. The Office for Foreigners declared that they will provide free shuttle for students until the end of November. But after November? Today no one can give an answer to these questions,” said Kamiński.
*Text was translated by Waynakh Online and edited by Michael Capobianco