Poles' attitude to Ukrainian labor migrants has changed

Author : Jakub Iwaniuk

Source : Le Monde

Over the past three years, the sharp increase in the number of Ukrainians in Poland has become evident to any attentive observer
12:00, 26 July 2018

Read the original text at Le Monde


Associations that represent hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian workers are unhappy with the decline in the government subsidies.

Myroslava Keryk is a modest and very impetuous middle-aged woman, who is just horrified with a thought about her idleness or rest. Her busy activities are reflected in the Ukrainian House office in Warsaw, led by her; it is located in the building of the "Our Choice" fund: a complete mess, a mess of papers and boxes. But anyway, a whole wall of thick folders with applications for funding projects suggests that behind visible chaos lies an effective leadership.

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The Ukrainian House in Warsaw helps migrants from neighboring Ukraine to adapt to a new life in Poland. On its area of 200 square meters, it conducts a wide range of activities: from cultural meetings to legal consultations, from joint care for children to language and other courses. "We feel that we are of great benefit, especially since the beginning of the migration boom after the Maidan revolution in 2014. At that moment, Poland is a source of support and friendship for the Ukrainians, and the economic situation in Ukraine has seriously deteriorated."

Anyway, the times have changed. Although the needs of the Ukrainian community in Poland only grow, the Ukrainian House is threatened by the policy of the ultra-conservative government of the "Right and Justice" party. "The Ministry of Internal Affairs has canceled the contest for financing minority integration projects, and the government has refused to allocate European money, which we are very dependent on," Myroslava continues bitterly. "This is a collateral damage from the migration crisis in the south." From now on, the Ukrainian house has to fight for its existence.

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Over the past three years, the sharp increase in the number of Ukrainians in Poland has become evident to any attentive observer. Migration is greatly facilitated by the proximity of languages, which, therefore, is the first factor of simplification of integration. Ukrainian accent in Warsaw is ubiquitous among waiters in cafes, cashiers in supermarkets and in snack bars, and also on the university benches. The same is observed in industry, logistics, construction, agriculture, and high technology.

Poland demonstrates full employment, and the growth of the economy is about 4%. Despite the influx of Ukrainians, there is a shortage of labor in the country: it is about a million jobs, primarily among low-skilled occupations. In addition, the Ukrainians fill the vacuum, which was formed after the mass departure of the Poles to work in Western Europe. Their salary is on average 2500-3000 zlotys (600-700 euros) per month.

But how many of them are there? It is quite difficult to say something definite. In any case, with the onset of the migration crisis in Europe, the ultra-conservative government justifies its own reluctance to show solidarity with Italy and Greece by having already adopted "2 million Ukrainian refugees" on its territory. Such a statement causes indignation of the leaders of the Ukrainian community.

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In fact, the situation looks different. In 2016, the Polish authorities issued 1.2 million visas, including 700 thousand with a work permit. At the end of 2016, a permit for living in Poland was available for 400,000 Ukrainians (of which 50,000 were students and 15,000 were for permanent residents). Finally, in 2014, the government granted refugee status to 74 Ukrainians.

Ukrainian immigration to Poland is primarily temporary. According to the Ukrainian research, 80% of the employees come for less than six months. "In general, 1.5 million Ukrainians come to Poland every year, but this does not mean that they all stay here," said Myroslava Keryk.

Mariusz Markiewicz is the head of the recruitment agency, which since 2007 specializes in the Ukrainian workforce. His company has three offices in Poland and four in Ukraine. About 2 thousand Ukrainians cooperate with him, mostly in the field of logistics and industry. "I have stopped farming because there are too hard working conditions, too little salaries, and besides illegal employment, for the same reasons I moved away from construction," he claimed.

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During the harvest period, Ukrainians can live in barracks for 12-18 people, receiving 50 cents per one kilogram. "They live in the barracks and visit the nearest discount store, they spend 150 euros for life monthly, they save the rest of the money and then return home," Markevich notes. According to him, theoretically, Ukrainians could use the European directive on remote labor.

"Actually, the Poles take us pretty well," says Myroslava Keryk. "Xenophobia is insignificant." Anyway, a recent study showed that the level of acceptance of Ukrainians by Polish society has fallen by more than 20 points since 2013. The anti-Ukrainian rhetoric of some politicians, relieving the past, the course of the ultra-conservative government and disinformation activities of the Kremlin become a source of tension. Moreover, the state of affairs might sharply deteriorate if the economic situation worsens.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or 112.International and its owners.

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