Poles Given Government Money to Go Home

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Hammersmith and Fulham Council has been allocated £50,000 to help Polish workers who have fallen on hard times return to their home country.

The Government money given to H&F will be passed on to charities such as the Barka Foundation, a Polish charity based off Goldhawk Road in Shepherd's Bush, which helps vulnerable migrants leave London and go back to Poland.

The Department for Communities and Local Government pays the money to cover the travel costs of people who have been unable to find work and want to rebuild their lives in their home country.

Last year, the so-called 'Barka bus' returned 150 people to Poland. During one such trip, a Polish father returning home told the Polish magazine Cooltura: “I didn’t want to go back because I was ashamed that I hadn’t achieved anything here. If I hadn’t missed my children, I wouldn’t have decided to go back. I have lost contact with my family. I want to go back to my relatives.”

The Liberal Democrat European Spokeswoman for London says it is natural that those who are unable to make ends meet should want to go home: "London has benefited hugely from the honest hard work of many Poles,” says Dinti Batstone who lives locally. “It is sad that some of them have now fallen on hard times, and it's understandable that those in difficulty should want to return home. Freedom of movement is a cornerstone of the EU, and just as some Poles are moving back to Poland, so many British ex-pats are returning to the UK, driven by the pound's weakness against the euro."

Latest figures from the electoral register show that the number of east Europeans living in Hammersmith and Fulham jumped by 191 percent since May 2004, when Poland gained entry to the EU and there are now an estimated 91 Polish businesses employing more than 600 people in the borough.

However, the increase in Polish workers has occurred alongside an increase in Polish rough- sleepers who have in some cases struggled to find work, and became easy target for black market gang-masters.

Barka's Tomasz Sadowski told Cooltura magazine it was initially quite hard to win the trust of Polish rough-sleepers and it was only when one returnee came back to London again that things changed: “He explained to other homeless people that we are not cheating, that we are really going to Poland and we are not going to throw anybody out just after crossing the border. He explained that in Poland they can rely on us. Since then the homeless talk with us openly. All of them need our support in their battle with alcohol, drugs and rebuilding their self-respect,” he told the magazine.

Councillor Greg Smith, Cabinet Member for Crime & Street Scene, says the Polish community is well-established in Hammersmith and Fulham: “This borough has a long and proud history of welcoming east European workers, particularly from Poland. The work and culture of Polish people as enriched the borough for more than half a century and we are delighted to see this continue.

“However, the reality of international migration will always create winners and losers and there are a visible minority who are losing out. This minority may have fallen victim to badly thought out plans for their move, may not speak the language or have pre-existing problems, like alcohol abuse, often end up rough sleeping, street drinking and begging. The Barka bus allows people to return home to an environment that will give them better opportunities and a brighter future.”

The Hammersmith area has been particularly attractive to new Polish migrants due to the community's long history in the borough as, after the Second World War, many Polish airmen and WWII refugees settled in the area.

5 February 2009