Connecting Communities: Poland to Ayrshire

One thing that seemed to have been made clear by the EU referendum was that in general Scotland has a more open and relaxed attitude when it comes to immigration. The reality, however, is something a bit more jarring. The frequency of xenophobic attacks are on the rise and it seems the lies about immigrants being lavished with tax payer money and given houses and cars for nothing (yes this is an actual claim that I have heard made before) are never ending, with more and more poor people in this country being convinced that their problems stem from poor people from other countries.

Scotland and Poland have always had a strong connection. Ever since Polish divisions were stationed here during the Second World war there has always been some kind of Polish community present in Scotland. There is even a 50m x 40m 3D outdoor scale model of Scotland on the grounds of Barony castle that was built there by a Polish WW2 veteran as well as a small group of Polish workers and exchange students. A testament to the country that had provided Jan Tomasik with his wife and a career as a hotelier in the years after the war.

With this in mind I thought it would be interesting to ask a few questions of some of the Polish people in our community and find out what life is like for people who came here with the hopes of a better life.

JamesSo what made you decide to leave Poland? What brought you to Ayrshire?

Ewelina – I left Poland in 2007. In June that year I finished college and decided to study at Jagiellonian University (in Krak√≥w). At the time I was basically a single parent, my partner at the time had been recruited for a job in Kilmarnock from a Polish work agency. I must add, at the time in Poland the economic situation was very bad. Most people, including my family, lived on the edge of poverty and there was no welfare system. In few words, it was hard. My partner suggested that I joined him along with my son and that’s how we came to be in Ayrshire.

Monika – I left Poland 10 years ago, for economic reasons mostly, but I always wanted to live in the UK. At the time, as a single mother in Poland I struggled to support myself and my daughter, even though I worked full time and had family helping with childcare, etc. My dad was already living in Ayrshire so I chose to come and stay with him.

Magdalena – The economic situation in Poland, difficulties in finding a job and a lack of prospects for the future is why I decided to leave. My husbands parents had been living in Ayrshire already so we decided to join them.

James – Has life been any easier for you since you moved to Ayrshire?

Ewelina – I thought living in Scotland would be a dream come true but it was really hard in the beginning. For some reason Polish people were seen only as cheap labour. We would be hired to do work that people here didn’t want to do and in general we’d be paid less to do it. Despite this I still earned more than a bookkeeper in Poland by washing dishes in a restaurant so in a way life was better! I had to go to college again in Ayrshire to gain some qualifications and learn new skills and now I have a better job.

Monika – Life is easier in Scotland for us. As a single mother I’m able to support us and even save a little, which I wasn’t able to do in Poland.

Magdalena – A little bit yes, but it’s not as good as we expected it to be.

James – Has it been easy to make friends here or do you tend to gravitate more towards other Polish people?

Ewelina – Scottish people are very friendly (most of them!) and open. In my opinion it is easy to make friends here as long as you’re fair and treat people how you would like to be treated, with respect and understanding. I’ve got roughly the same amount of Polish and Scottish friends, I like them all!

Monika – I have family here who I spend most of my time with and a few friends/ colleagues that are both Polish and Scottish. Language is not a barrier for me though, so I think it’s a little easier for me.

Magdalena – Due to the hobby that I have (Dog training) I’ve met quite a few people and made friends with a couple but generally we just keep to ourselves. I only have a few Polish friends but I’m not looking for more.

James – Have you encountered any prejudice during your time here?

Ewelina – Unfortunately yes. Usually in my places of work with random people who would ask me questions like “why don’t you want to go back home?” or say things like “your country must be empty as so many of you left!”. Also my children were bullied for being Polish so we had to change schools. Now we don’t have problems. I know that behind behaviour like that are parents who live in a world of illusions. They believe any lies they are told.

Monika – I have… In real day to day life not very often and nothing major. Just people expressing their opinions on immigration but it’s mostly on TV, online or in the papers. My daughter has witnessed incidents on the playground at school where Polish or Muslim kids were bullied for being foreign.

Magdalena – Luckily, No

James – Has Brexit affected how you view this country?

Ewelina – “BREXIT” that big scary word that everyone wants to run from! Yes, I’m scared, distracted and just tired. I have everything here, family, friends, my job… Life! It doesn’t seem fair that you can just come and tell people “OK! It was nice having you here but now is your time to leave.” It’s unfair. I’ve paid for permission to live and work in Scotland, paid all of my taxes and now if I’m denied settlement status I have to go! Just like that. It is sad that the British/ Polish people have been deceived in this way. Now everyone will be affected.

Monika – It has. I felt at home here and now I don’t. It changed everything. Before the referendum we never even considered going back to Poland. Home was Scotland, but now it’s more than a possibility. My daughter considered herself Scottish – now she wants to go back to Poland. We’re tired of it all, this governments rhetoric on immigration most of all. They aren’t giving us any assurances and we don’t trust anything that they say. The settled status is a sham. When we came here 10 years ago I had to pay (a lot) for my right to work. A year later they scrapped it. Now they want us to register again. And the scheme doesn’t guarantee anything because the Home Office can revoke your settled status at any moment – that’s if you even get it in the first place. They’re not exactly known for their competence either. How can anyone live like that? And what would a no deal Brexit mean for us? Do we just become illegal overnight? It’s been so stressful, but it’s not as easy as just packing our suitcases and leaving. We’ve built our lives here. We have responsibilities, friends and family.

Magdalena – Yes as it’s a lot of uncertainty now. We don’t know what to expect and how our life will be afterwards.

I would like to thank Ewelina, Monika and Magdalena for the insights they have provided and I hope that whether leave or remain, we can take note of the chaos this situation has caused in the lives of fellow working people who have brought more to this country than they are given credit for, in spite of what some would have you believe when they talk about the “dangers” of immigration.