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Mamadou Diouf

Singer and journalist form Senegal living in Poland, professional vet, singing in Wolof, Polish and French. Among others, he cooperated with Voo Voo on “Zapłacono” album and Tam Tam Project band. Together with Pako Sarr and Mohamed M’bow (djembe, guitar and vocals) he founded Senegalese trio Djolof-Man. Associated with Afryka.org – portal working on promotion of Africa. Mamadou is also a correspondent of Continent Warsaw portal – information site concerning multiculturalism in Warsaw.

Anyone who travels knows this first barrier when arriving to a new place. This barrier is native speech of course!

None of adults wants to become voiceless suddenly because of language barrier. A riddle: universal language, neither English, nor Esperanto. What’s the language? The answer  is: body language – your hands and face expressions, gesticulation in general. This will help in some situations. Unfortunately, it is useless when asking more detailed questions concerning living or everyday problems. Quite frankly, as a newcomer I would not have any idea how to ask: “where’s the foreigners office, my visa is about to expire”. Language is the basic tool, useful not only for integration.

For years I have been telling my friends that if they have to quarrel anywhere in Poland, they should do it in Polish. For its effectiveness and to lighten the atmosphere (this however not always work). You know, who doesn’t like this adorable accent of a foreigner? An accent of Pole speaking French or Wolof (Senegalese language), Senegal or Vietnamese chatting in Polish. It is a pure pleasure for natives to listen to newcomers’ charming accent, especially during their first weeks in Poland. I remember my stay in Polish Language college for foreigners in Lódź. First weeks in dormitory No. XIII after the beginning of the course were amazing. We were playing football on the back of the building, foreigners from: Cameroon, Mali, Senegal, Morocco, Madagascar, Panama, Nigeria, Guyana, Vietnam… and we were breaking all of grammar bones of Rej’s language. “Hej, kolega, daj piłka!” was the most frequent sentence heard on the football pitch. Not to mention our chats in dormitory’s kitchen. I wonder why any director have’t made a comedy about foreigners’ first month in Poland yet.

Language is not as massive barrier as it seems. At least not for all foreigners. For many newcomers form sub-Saharan part of Africa, it is just an another flower in the rich linguistic garden. It is rare to meet an African form the south of Sahara who knows only one language. People I have met in Warsaw know 2 or 3 languages. English, Portuguese or French are in common use by students; on better or a bit worse level by other immigrants. Add 1 or 2 ethnic languages to these western ones and you become a polyglot. This makes new language acquisition much easier.

Coming back to a language as a primary integration tool for foreigner, reminds me of workshops of my group during two previous Migration Policies forums in Cracow and Lublin. We had a long discussion on how to help immigrants to learn Polish. There is only one solution: this should be mandatory and free of any charge. Secondly: it is necessary to overcome mental barrier, and this especially concerns Poles themselves, and the way they think about their language as a foreign one. The difference is subtle, but crucial. Such attitude allows to lower the integration barrier.

But language will not satisfy all of the needs, sure thing. What about a job? Not to mention renting a flat, insurance, education and social assistance.

First things first. Immigrant is an active person. I am not speaking about refuges who are forced to leave their countries by other reasons than economic. Plans, ambition, determination and the cooperation with host society should go along well. Unless the host society turns out to be inhospitable!

Job and language are crucial aspects of this unplanned meeting of immigrant with Poles. Job solves many problems: flat, insurance, school for children. The most important is that employed person does not need social assistance. Prime Minister of the United Kingdom accused Poles of taking advantage of those founds. This was quite recently, before May elections to European Parliament. Personally, I think that immigrant always looks for employment. Anywhere in the World, whether it is a group of Mexicans climbing barbed wires on the US border, or Africans waiting for right moment to reach Spanish cities of Ceuta and Melilla on the Moroccan territory to find themselves in Schengen Area; or Poles traveling (on different basis) to England or Ireland, all those people want to find a job. All of them offer their hands and experiences to the host society.

To the number of integration barriers I also count atmosphere in offices and institutions that foreigners must pay visit to. It is impossible to skip Office for Foreigners etc. Kindness in these stressful places is more than welcome. Even a person who has never traveled abroad, has experienced such stress e.g. when taking various exams. Sitting on a corridor waiting for professor to call your name. Stress is at extremely high level and in case of a person waiting for a decision on a stay, this level may be even doubled. Certainly, the situation is getting better. I remember queues in Offices for Foreigners on Krucza and Andersa streets. Today those queues are on Długa street (the office is mobile just like its customers – nomads). I have heard from my fellow-countryman that some group of foreigners collect significant amount of queue numbers (this must be well organized group) and then trade them. I thought that the problem with queues has ended. I was sure that the electronic system with numbers will eliminate this pathology.

During the last Cities Migration Policies forum in Lublin we have discussed the problem of language acquaintance of workers in offices concerned with legalization of a stay or employment of foreigners. This is really annoying, especially in smaller towns. But still I believe that the change is about to come as the immigration policy is not in its infancy.

A propos the term ”third countries”. When I hear “the third”, comes to my mind a poem by La Fontaine about two thieves and a donkey (published in 1668). The thieves were arguing about stealing the donkey. When the fight was getting fiercer and fiercer, came the third one and took the animal. This is a poem from the times of primary school in Dakar. “The third one” has dual meaning here: on one hand he resembles reconciliation, but cunning on the other. I do understand that the host country is “ the first one”, “the second one” stands for other EU states. In the end is “the third”. Thought provoking!

Citizens of third countries have no voice: participation in political life is extremely important element of integration strategy. Participation in elections, deciding on local authorities, full participation in social organizations is considering foreigners as citizens. As the aim of integration is harmony between foreigners and host society, what is the argument against letting people speak on matters of their own? One works, pays taxes, cofounds pensions; this is one of the reasons why Europe needs immigrants. Why such person cannot have the right to decide about issues concerning own district or community?

We know well that the integration is a matter of local policies. Only this may provide reasonable effects. Sure, the state creates migration policy, proposes solutions on system and institutions basis, but sooner or later local policies do the job. This is because integration is territorial issue.

The integration barriers may be disassembled, we may get get rid of fences, lower some of them. This will allow immigrants to feel comfortable. This comfort is necessary for a human, it changes the attitude and allows to feel attachment to a new place. This is what integration is about.

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Do Immigrants Engage in the Actions Implemented for Them?

Polish organisations have submitted applications on behalf or for the benefit of immigrants on numerous occasions. In the very beginning, it should be emphasised that there is an obvious qualitative difference between applications “on behalf” and “for the benefit.” As for the former, there is certain cooperation between an organisation and a group of immigrants. This means that there are immigrants in a group which works on the general idea of the project, its preparation and goals. A project “for the benefit” of immigrants, by contrast, sounds worse in my opinion. Still, much depends on the area of activity.

The European Fund for the Integration of Third-Country Nationals (EIF) was launched in Poland in 2007. In the first years of its functioning, the Fund seemed to me a suspicious, even Mafia-like entity. Everyone kept too quiet about it. Its members did not appear in the media. There were no promotional campaigns, posters or anything that would have informed Poles about how they could help immigrants to integrate with the new society.

 

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Insured immigrants

My friend once told me, “Be more wary of the tax office than of the police.” In retrospect, it seems to me that he forgot to add that no one had ever won with the Polish Social Insurance Institution, ZUS for short in Polish. I had no idea what kind of institution it is. This sounds strange but that was really the case at the time. I had never been employed on a full time basis. Common sense told me: “Dude, what is a social insurance pension for immigrants?”

Over five years ago, being in a hurry, I took the wrong train. This sometimes happens when you are late but know which platform the train departs from. The train was supposed to have gone to Zakopane. It turned out that that it was an express to ZUS. That’s how troubles began, much fuss about with money and insurance.

It has always puzzled me why insurance is obligatory. Why can’t you insure yourself there where you want or put aside a sum of money on your bank account to use in the event of an illness or accident. Some procedures, however, have to be completed “ex officio.” That’s always the case when something is regulated by laws and regulations.

Social Insurance Institution. In Polish, ZUS for short. I am allergic to the very abbreviation, so popular in Poland. By no means is ZUS brave. Not all artists know that their performances are treated as a form of economic activity by ZUS. It’s enough that you are on the register of artists held by the Ministry of Culture (you don’t have to either have a NIP or REGON number or keep the books as is the case with a typical economic activity). As for me, ZUS told me to pay the insurance contributions for the previous years. A considerable sum of money had accumulated in no time (I wish it had been the Polish national lottery). Even installments were of little help because the law prohibits spreading payments over a period longer than five years. It is something that is called “voluntary” health insurance! A social security fund, health insurance, a labour fund … I don’t remember how many times I had to fill in, with capital letters and numbers, the blank spaces below these phrases sounding like
a mantra

For several days, I was considering an idea of bringing the case before the European Tribunal of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Something was definitely amiss with my case. Finally, my warm feelings towards the country on the Vistula River prevailed. I didn’t want to do anything against the country that had received me so warmly some years ago. After all, when any case is brought before international institutions, the image of the country gets tarnished to some extent. I had to pay even though the validity of the request made by ZUS was doubtful. The case, however, was later brought before the European Commission on the request of ZUS after I had submitted an application for redemption of the debt. Halfway through 2014, I already see the end of the stairway or maybe it’s the terminus of the train I wrote about in the beginning. At this point I finish my personal story.

I’m thinking of making use of my six-year-long experience: various contacts, meetings, appeals, applications for spreading out the payments, submitted to ZUS. I’m thinking of piecing it all together in order to organise meetings with international students and immigrants all over Poland. These will be workshops, during which I will talk about my own ignorance in the face of the significance of the situation. In fact, ZUS and the tax office are both equally inaccessible.

Every student and immigrant (if he or she works) is obliged to secure himself or herself. In the beginning, it is obviously far more important to complete formalities required to obtain a visa and register our residence. An official announcement published by ZUS is as follows: “If a person insures himself or herself voluntarily, he or she is required to report to ZUS the fact of having concluded a voluntary health insurance contract with the provincial division of the National Health Fund (NFZ for short in Polish).” That’s what I did a few years ago, believing that I would be paying insurance contributions from that moment on. It turned out that ZUS had charged money even before it even learnt about my existence. That’s what immigrants should strive to avoid. It’s not worth their nerves, a constantly empty bank account and unnecessary installments. I will talk to them about health insurance. Similar meetings, workshops and panels will be particularly helpful for those who are responsible only for themselves (have no children and spouse, and are in good health for the time being). These people probably are not especially interested in matters concerning insurance.

I think that workshops concerning such questions as why the social insurance system is so important, how and where you can insure yourself in Poland, whether you can check if the employer has insured the employee (something that is particularly important for footballers playing in lower leagues), to what benefits an insured person is entitled to and how old-age and disability pensions are granted may prove very useful. Even ZUS itself could be willing to send its experts to answer questions of young immigrants. Someone should explain to them that it’s beneficial for them to pay insurance contributions. I’m curious what percentage of immigrants takes into consideration the perspective of spending their retirement in Poland. We can fall ill or have an accident today or tomorrow. Retirement is a marathon. We don’t always think about how our life will look like in 20 or 30 years’ time.

There is, however, one privileged group of foreigners who are not subject to social insurance. These are citizens of foreign countries (this turn of phrase sounds better than the word “immigrants” although it is the proper definition of a foreigner!) whose residence in Poland is not permanent and who are employed at foreign diplomatic representations, consular posts, international institutions or in special missions. Those who study at state higher education institutions have the problem off their heads. At every such an institution, there is some nice person (a deputy dean for students’ affairs) who helps with all matters concerning social assistance. The situation looks much glimmer when it comes to immigrants working illegally, for instance at markets. I’m curious how much immigants know about ZUS.

By Mammadou Diouf

Translation: Anna Orzechowska

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After the 3rd Forum: What Next?

I have taken part in numerous discussion panels, conferences and workshops. Most of them have been organised by non-governmental organisations, sometimes also by the public administration. The last Forum was held in Warsaw and its subject was the migration policy of three Polish cities: Cracow, Lublin and Warsaw. That was also the order in which workshops were organised in the three cities, each time at the invitation of the main partner of the Forum – one of the following non-governmental organisations: Interkulturalni (the Intercultural), Homo Faber and the Inna Przestrzeń (Other Space) Foundation.

The third sector has its merits in the development of democracy, resolution of various social issues and numerous untypical problems. I sometimes wonder: if the third sector had existed in the Middle Ages, would have Galileo had a good protector and defender in his confrontation with the church authorities? The effectiveness of NGOs is simply unparalleled in certain matters. 

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Immigration seen from a distance

Migrants and development

When we touch upon the topic of migrations, we focus on two things. First, what a society can do as a host to integrate the newcomers. Secondly, what the newcomers should do to be received in a peaceful way. Today, I would like to refer to different expectations – those of the migrants’ families. What does a family, who very often pays for the journey, expect, what are the thoughts of those who are left in the so called third countries? What migrants do to help in the development of their place of birth? The problem of the migrations and development has not beenconsidered in Poland as yet.

Irregular immigration, either legal or not, contributes to the progress, to the development of the third countries. Those people are the actors of the progress, solid progress. They start different projects for the development of their villages or regions. Usually these projects are aimed at such places, forgotten by the central authority, where there is no school or health centre.

The migrations are the potential engine of growth and development for all engaged parties: receiving countries, countries of origin and for the immigrants themselves. The advantages for the society of the receiving country are obvious: the rejuvenation of the labour force at no expense, the increase of the profitability of such sectors as agriculture and services, important contribution to the system of social care, the response to the needs of the branch of new technologies.Migrants’ countries of origin gain a positive capital investment (money orders as well as investments) through the transfer of technology and competences.

 

A new perspective on the development aid


In a broader view, projects created by the immigrants in their countries of origin engage the authorities, international aid organisations, and EU countries’ governments, which have been providing humanitarian and development aid for years. It is a new direction for African countries, the outside alternative for the officially set public development aid which is not always effective. I often read that billions of dollars have been pumped in Africa for the last 50 years. The logical question appears: when is it all going to end? The answer is not simple. The questioner may pretend ignorance and do not take all aspects of this aid into account. They do not ask, how much from those billions goes to farmers, breeders or ordinary inhabitants of any village in the countries that receive help. How many agents, companies from the supporting country are involved in the realization of the projects? In other words, how much money goes back, through different ways (purchases of equipment and various materials, hiring research or project departments), how many things must be acquired at the companies from the funding country.

In France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Poland or the USA, an immigrant from Senegal supports their family in many things, such as everyday products, health issues, education, funerals, baptisms… The money order is the most important thing for their family. It is fast and simple. Money Gram or Western Union, which is popular in Poland, have six thousand agent locations in Senegal. The motto of the latter is: „Join a number of people who for over 150 years have been entrusting us with their money to transfer it to their families.” A withdrawal is possible in over 200 countries and territories throughout the world. Despite high commissions, this form of transferring money is indispensable for the immigrants.Thanks to that, every year, people in different African countries receive money that is several times the value of the so called development aid from the rich North. These good practices of the immigrants should inspire decision makers throughout the world to change the obsolete and sometimes amoral approach towards the cooperation with poorer countries.

 

Between the immigrants and their villages


These finances can be a capital injection for savings and credit cooperatives in the villages thanks to the money ordersto families, for the equipment, or to provide the means for loans to the local borrowers.In the past, the migrants limited themselves to supporting their family relations and to financing the rural infrastructure (they were the founders or the sponsors of health centres, mosques, schools etc.). They promoted a less effective modelof development, which gave them prestige in the eyes of the villagers. Today everything looks different. The emergence of the formal organisations for development, for instance associations, as well as new forms of funding change the relations between the migrants and their villages.Rural organisations are getting more involved. The migrants become the creditors. Unfortunately, more projects are realised in the cities, mainly in the field of immovables and transport, which are the profitable sectors.

Almost 30% of the money orders received via money transfer agencies comes from siblings, 20% from parents and 14% from a spouse. The money transfer is also a common practice at the workplace; the money is sent by colleagues or even by customers.

Apart from the money orders in Senegal, there are also considerable transfers from France, Italy, Spain or the USA. In Africa itself, the countries such as Gabon, Mali or Morocco are also an important source of the money transfers. The Senegalese are the real nomads. Who is not, actually? Is there a place in the world where it is impossible to find Polish diaspora?

The money transfers have a potential to bring real positive changes in the migrants’ countries of origin. Their significance becomes enormous when we compare them with the officially set development aid. The valorisation of the experience of the migrants returning to their countries of origin is a completely different subject, which is very important as far as the programmes or projects for the development of the third countries are concerned. I think that the role of the migrants in the development of their countries of origin will be increasing, thanks to their experience from their stay in the "first” or "second” countries and thanks to their competences and money transfers. The effectiveness is an essential aspect. It is obvious that one is more willing to help one’s own family or friends.

 

By Mamadou Diouf

Translation: Alicja Kosim

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