Westminster pays struggling Poles to go home
By Sally Pook
Polish immigrants living in poverty in Britain after failing to find work and accommodation are being paid to return home by a London authority worried about the numbers of homeless Eastern Europeans on its streets.
Westminster Council has funded the return of more than 265 Poles and is asking the Department for Work and Pensions for more money to help solve the crisis, described as an “unfolding tragedy” by one of its councillors. Yesterday the authority, several charities and the Barka Foundation, a non-governmental organisation from Poland, agreed to collaborate to help the thousands of immigrants estimated to be living in squalor in Britain.
A delegation from the Barka Foundation arrived in London last week with the intention of setting up an office near Victoria coach station, where most Poles arrive, which will aim to help immigrants find work and accommodation, as well as proving training, language skills, and counselling for drug and alcohol addiction.
“It is terribly sad and I feel very much for my fellow countrymen,” said Ewa Sadowska, a spokesman for the foundation.
“The media in Poland believed that the situation here in London had been exaggerated, but it hasn't at all.
“I have met hundreds of homeless Polish people since I arrived here. Each one has their own terrible story to tell.”
An estimated 400,000 Poles live in Britain having taken advantage of the government's decision to open its labour markets to workers from the accession countries of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia since they joined the European Union in May 2004.
Barka estimates that of these about 45,000 are living in squalor, although up to 100,000 could be “in difficulty”.
The Simon Community, a London homelessness charity which initially approached the Barka Foundation for help, estimates that up to 35 per cent of the people it encounters on its daily soup runs in the capital are immigrants from Poland.
Polish immigrants cannot claim benefits until they have worked for 16 months in Britain and paid all their national insurance contributions, which leads many to end up on the streets.
If they are not claiming benefits they cannot sleep in state-funded hostels.
Many Poles arrive in London with little money and no contacts, but expect to find work and accommodation immediately. The reverse is often the case.
Yesterday Janusz Wach, the Polish Consul General in London, urged his countrymen not to come to Britain.
He said: “We advise everyone: don't come if you don't have the financial resources, if you don't have the contacts, if you don't have a job waiting for you in the UK, if you don't know the language, if you don't have skills.
''Just don't come. It is not as easy as you think. Some of you will make it, most of you will not.”
Angela Harvey, a Westminster councillor, visited Poland recently to address the country's parliament on the growing number of homeless people on the streets in London.
She said: “This is a national problem, not a local one.
''We want the Department for Work and Pensions to fulfil their treaty obligations and advise these people how to go about getting a job.
''We recommended setting up a welcome desk at Victoria coach station, which they declined.
''From the 400,000 to 600,000 estimated Poles that have arrived in Britain it is only a tiny minority who find themselves in this situation.
''These people did not come here to sleep rough. They came here to work but a human tragedy is unfolding.”
Westminster was given 167,000 last year to pay for one-way tickets for homeless Poles, as well as extra police officers and an interpreter to help its outreach work.
1 September 2006: Ministers may bar migrants without skills
21 August 2006: Priests struggle to cope with new Polish flock
28 June 2006: Immigrants 'swamping' council services