Mateusz Morawiecki, Polish Premier, says that his country is determined to oppose a plan by the European Union to distribute the burden of asylum seekers and migrants across the continent. He wants to make sure "Poles are able to walk safely on the streets" so it won't accept foreigners.
A tiny village of only 200 people is preparing to welcome 6,000 workers in a newly constructed housing compound. These workers are required by a company that is controlled by Morawiecki’s right-wing regime.
The state-controlled oil company PKNOrlen is in need of them to help build a new petrochemical facility that's vital for their expansion plans. Around 100 people have already arrived and the rest are expected to follow shortly, outnumbering the residents of Biala. Krzysztof szczawinski is the elected leader of Biala, and one of the five local farmers that agreed to lease land for a new housing compound and storage. He added that because workers will be expected to leave after their work is completed, there is "no real negative feeling" even though the majority of voters in Biala support Poland's conservative ruling party, Law and Justice. This populist political force rose to power in 2015. It did so by taking a hard line against foreign workers seeking employment. The gap between the government's diatribes about unwanted migrants and its open-armed approach towards foreign workers is a reflection of the wide chasm that separates the imperatives for politics and economics both in Poland and other European countries. Jakub Zgorzelski is a manager of the vast camp for foreign workers. He said that he had little trouble convincing local farmers to lease their land and give up their crops for the compound. Morawiecki rejected the EU's attempts to convince member states to accept some migrants who arrive in Greece and Italy via sea from North Africa. He called it a "diktat aimed at changing
Orlen must embrace cultural differences to keep its expansion plans on track. The Biala foreign workers' compound was constructed in a matter of months using 2,500 modules, which look like shipping container windows. The compound has four kitchens for the different dietary requirements of the foreign workers. Filipinos, who are Roman Catholics like most Poles, but do not enjoy cabbage and potatoes, Hindus and Turkmenistan Muslims, who don't eat pork. Poland's economy has recovered since the COVID-19 locks have been lifted, but it is still short of workers. When it considers the unrest in France that followed the June shooting of a French teenager with Algerian and Moroccan ancestry, it sees even more reasons to restrict immigration. Morawiecki stated this month that the riots were "the consequences of policies of uncontrolled immigration". "We do not want to see scenes like these on Polish streets," Morawiecki said, seizing the upheaval as an opportunity to attack the liberal critics of the government before the crucial election for a newly elected parliament in October. Both the Law and Justice Party and Civic Platform, the main opposition party, do not want to appear to be soft on immigration. However, both parties want the economy growing and this will require new foreign labor. Poland is the largest economy in Eastern Europe and Central Europe (excluding Russia), yet it has one of the fastest shrinking populations of all 27 EU members. Slawomir Wrzynski is the leader of a relatively wealthy district, which includes the village Biala, along with small settlements, and a large petroleum facility. He complained about labor shortages crimping local development. He said, "We have the money to build buildings and roads, but not the manpower." "We need foreigners." Orlen entrusted the $3 billion new plant to a South Korean and Spanish engineering consortium. The latter, in turn sought out cheap labor in Asia to supplement the hard to find Polish workers. Welders from Lucknow in northern India said they were paid $3 per hour, which is more than what they earned in India and half the minimum wage in Poland. He claimed that he felt more welcomed in Poland and had not encountered any hostility by the Polish people than when he worked in Algeria. Orlen is a city controlled by a government known for inflaming anti-foreigner feelings. It is now funding a campaign against discrimination sponsored by the local Police force. The "Respect Has No Color" campaign is far from the message of the leader of the ruling party, Jaroslaw Kacynski. He warned before the 2015 elections that his opponents were going to open the floodgates for migrants carrying "very dangerous diseases, long absent from Europe," such as "all kinds parasites and prozoa." The party has toned down some of its more virulent anti foreigner messages, but still promotes itself as the sole defender of Polish culture and values against unwanted intrusions. This could be from Brussels bureaucrats or desperate migrants who are trying to sneak in Europe looking for a better future. More than one million Ukrainian refugees, mostly women and children fled to Poland during the war. This has actually exacerbated the labor shortage because many Ukrainians who worked on Polish factories and construction sites have gone home to fight. The broader demographic decline also shrinks the pool of Poles who are willing to perform manual labor. This is a big problem. Piotr Polawski, senior economics at ING Bank Warsaw said that you can't alter demographics. He added that the container camp for foreign workers "is currently an exception, but will most probably be the future", as Poland searches abroad for new labor sources. The container town of Biala has a high-rise metal fence around it and a police station that includes barred detention rooms. Zgorzelski said that Asian workers can come and leave as they wish until the project is completed, but most will leave Poland when their contracts expire. He said, "This isn't a migrant settlement but a place for workers to stay." Marek Martynowski is a senator from Law and Justice who represents the region where the new plant is located. He said that his party welcomes foreign workers as long as they enter legally and are not "young men" looking for social benefits. He said that the thousands of workers hired to build Orlen's new plant are "workers, not migrants," and we definitely need workers. He admitted that his party has used "harsh" words against foreigners at times, but said that "everyone uses tough rhetoric" in the run-up to elections. The Polish government is mainly expressing its anger at the European Union's plan to redistribute migrants. Brussels hasn't demanded it to take anyone in and will likely offer Poland money as compensation for the Ukrainians that it has protected. The opposition also used immigration as a political tool, accusing the government for causing alarm about migrants, while allowing a large influx from countries like Pakistan, Iran, and Nigeria. Why is Kaczynski putting the dogs on immigrants and foreigners while he wants to allow them into such countries by the thousands? Donald Tusk was the leader of the main opposition. He also said that he was horrified by the violent riots in France, and that the ruling party had averted trouble by bringing "more than 135,000 citizens from these countries last year." Orlen, caught in the middle, has tried to assure the public it is not soft on migrants. It has claimed that it does not hire Asian workers and leaves all hiring decisions up to contractors. Orlen CEO Daniel Obajtek said on Polish radio that "These people don't bring their families. They won't stay here."
This article was originally published in
The New York Times