Open House for Foreigners Residing in Poznań
Today, June 12, 2019, the Department of Foreigners' Affairs of the Wielkopolska Voivodship Office in Poznań organized the first ever open house for migrants living in the city. The event was widely advertised by mass media. There were flyers announcing the open house in Polish, English, and Russian. The organizers promised participants that the event would be a unique opportunity to get advice on all sorts of legal matters—residence and work permits—as well as social integration issues, including Polish language courses, education for children, social assistance, taxes, and health insurance.
I decided to pop in and see for myself what the buzz was about. I figured it would be a good occasion to engage in some participant observation as part of our NoVaMigra research project on norms and values in the context of the “migration crisis.” I wanted to see what kind of migrants the event attracted and what the migrants’ expectations were, why they came, and what they wanted to learn.
At 10 am, half an hour after the doors opened, there were already a hundred or more people queuing to chat with various experts. Many more were getting their participant card at the information desk. A reporter from the Internet radio WTK was interviewing people and his cameraman also followed the crowd. Radio WTK reported on migrants living in the city on several occasions before. I am looking forward to hear what they post about this event.
With norms and values on my mind, I approached several people to chat about their migration journey to Poznań and their integration experiences. A young man from India working in an IT company, said he came to learn about labor laws and ways to prevent labor exploitation. He talked about wanting to do everything by the book, but at the same time expected respect. He said: “I am an excellent IT expert and I want my work to be respected. I also expect respect as a person. Look at my face, I want people to see the person, not just the color of my skin.”
Quite a few people were waiting to talk to the labor experts. They wanted to make sure that all of their paperwork was in proper order, but they also wanted to know what are the norms and laws governing working hours, paid vacation time, parental and sick leave. Several students inquired whether they can work while on student visa in Poland.
The Migrant Info Point (MIP) had a nice booth at the even as well. Several people came to inquire about the services MIP provides. Izabela Czerniejewska, the MIP Coordinator, is a well-known person among the staff of the Wielkopolska Voivodship Office. While talking to various service providers and law enforcement representatives about their perception of the most pressing needs and challenges migrants living in Poznań face, virtually everybody was referring me to Izabela. “She knows best,” they said.
I hope that the open house was not the last event the Department of Foreigners’ Affairs organized. The number of participants who came despite the hot weather and no air conditioning in the building testifies to the need for more similar events.