“Before I came here I was a Russian teacher, I’d like to find a similar job here”. Raisa is happy. The Chechen mother of two children has just got a permit to work and stay in Poland. In two months, she will be able to leave the asylum center and start a new life.
On the contrary, Romail Uca is upset. He has just received his second asylum refusal. “We have sold everything in Chechnya to travel to Germany. We spent all of our savings for the treatment of one of my children, who is very sick. And now I am stuck here with my family. It has already been a year. At the border control, the police took our birth certificates. After we were deported to Poland, we learned that our documents were missing. I have tried everything, lawyer, embassies, NGOs, but I cannot get a permit to stay here neither go back. And in Chechnya, there is a lot of corruption, so if they hear that we went to Europe, they could think that we have money and ask about 200,-EUR for each birth certificate. I have six children, so it would be too expensive.”
Raisa and Romail are living in one of the four public asylum centers in Poland. Linin is lost in the middle of a lovely countryside. We could not find it on the GPS since it used to be an army base, as the director of the center explains to us.
About 207 refugees are living in this center, around 140 children with their parents, 95% from Chechnya. Most of them are Muslims and declare to be victims of exclusion from Russian society. It is the main reason for them to flee their country.
The majority of the refugees living here entered Poland legally in Brest at the Polish-Ukrainian border. Their passports and other official documents are directly taken away by the police and given to the Foreign Office where they can apply for asylum. They receive a temporary document that gives them a kind of official status for a one-month-period and they have to go to an asylum center. At the end of the first month, this document can be extended for the next six months. The procedures are often very complicated; it can take from one year up to 18 months to get an answer if they can stay or not in the country.
Inside the center, the children aged under 6 years can go to a kindergarden. The older children go to one of the four schools in the neighbourhood. The Foreign Office provides them with books and school material. The center also offers Polish lessons, but it is mostly children who are attending as the parents are not interested in learning Polish, wishing to go to Germany, France and to the other Western European countries.
The center also offers hair dressing, manicure and sewing courses run by the NGO named Polska Akcja Humanitarna, as well as sportive activities.
The refugees can leave the center for two days without giving explanation, but on the third day they have to show up again. The way to control their presence in the center are the food coupons they receive twice a week. Apart from food coupons and accommodation, each adult refugee gets 70 zloty per month as pocket money and 9 zloty per day for each child to pay for food during school time. In the center, there are also people called “car drivers”, who have a car and can drive others to the shopping centers. If someone needs to visit a doctor or the Office for Foreigners in Warsaw, they can be reimbursed if they use public transport. There is also a surgery providing free health care and basic drugs.
In the area around the center, many of the inhabitants have prejudices and a negative image of the refugees. Getting accepted by Polish society will be the next challenge that awaits Raisa outside the asylum center...