Anyone who travels knows this first barrier when arriving to a new place. This barrier is native speech of course!
None of adults wants to become voiceless suddenly because of language barrier. A riddle: universal language, neither English, nor Esperanto. What’s the language? The answer is: body language – your hands and face expressions, gesticulation in general. This will help in some situations. Unfortunately, it is useless when asking more detailed questions concerning living or everyday problems. Quite frankly, as a newcomer I would not have any idea how to ask: “where’s the foreigners office, my visa is about to expire”. Language is the basic tool, useful not only for integration.
For years I have been telling my friends that if they have to quarrel anywhere in Poland, they should do it in Polish. For its effectiveness and to lighten the atmosphere (this however not always work). You know, who doesn’t like this adorable accent of a foreigner? An accent of Pole speaking French or Wolof (Senegalese language), Senegal or Vietnamese chatting in Polish. It is a pure pleasure for natives to listen to newcomers’ charming accent, especially during their first weeks in Poland. I remember my stay in Polish Language college for foreigners in Lódź. First weeks in dormitory No. XIII after the beginning of the course were amazing. We were playing football on the back of the building, foreigners from: Cameroon, Mali, Senegal, Morocco, Madagascar, Panama, Nigeria, Guyana, Vietnam… and we were breaking all of grammar bones of Rej’s language. “Hej, kolega, daj piłka!” was the most frequent sentence heard on the football pitch. Not to mention our chats in dormitory’s kitchen. I wonder why any director have’t made a comedy about foreigners’ first month in Poland yet.
Language is not as massive barrier as it seems. At least not for all foreigners. For many newcomers form sub-Saharan part of Africa, it is just an another flower in the rich linguistic garden. It is rare to meet an African form the south of Sahara who knows only one language. People I have met in Warsaw know 2 or 3 languages. English, Portuguese or French are in common use by students; on better or a bit worse level by other immigrants. Add 1 or 2 ethnic languages to these western ones and you become a polyglot. This makes new language acquisition much easier.
Coming back to a language as a primary integration tool for foreigner, reminds me of workshops of my group during two previous Migration Policies forums in Cracow and Lublin. We had a long discussion on how to help immigrants to learn Polish. There is only one solution: this should be mandatory and free of any charge. Secondly: it is necessary to overcome mental barrier, and this especially concerns Poles themselves, and the way they think about their language as a foreign one. The difference is subtle, but crucial. Such attitude allows to lower the integration barrier.
But language will not satisfy all of the needs, sure thing. What about a job? Not to mention renting a flat, insurance, education and social assistance.
First things first. Immigrant is an active person. I am not speaking about refuges who are forced to leave their countries by other reasons than economic. Plans, ambition, determination and the cooperation with host society should go along well. Unless the host society turns out to be inhospitable!
Job and language are crucial aspects of this unplanned meeting of immigrant with Poles. Job solves many problems: flat, insurance, school for children. The most important is that employed person does not need social assistance. Prime Minister of the United Kingdom accused Poles of taking advantage of those founds. This was quite recently, before May elections to European Parliament. Personally, I think that immigrant always looks for employment. Anywhere in the World, whether it is a group of Mexicans climbing barbed wires on the US border, or Africans waiting for right moment to reach Spanish cities of Ceuta and Melilla on the Moroccan territory to find themselves in Schengen Area; or Poles traveling (on different basis) to England or Ireland, all those people want to find a job. All of them offer their hands and experiences to the host society.
To the number of integration barriers I also count atmosphere in offices and institutions that foreigners must pay visit to. It is impossible to skip Office for Foreigners etc. Kindness in these stressful places is more than welcome. Even a person who has never traveled abroad, has experienced such stress e.g. when taking various exams. Sitting on a corridor waiting for professor to call your name. Stress is at extremely high level and in case of a person waiting for a decision on a stay, this level may be even doubled. Certainly, the situation is getting better. I remember queues in Offices for Foreigners on Krucza and Andersa streets. Today those queues are on Długa street (the office is mobile just like its customers – nomads). I have heard from my fellow-countryman that some group of foreigners collect significant amount of queue numbers (this must be well organized group) and then trade them. I thought that the problem with queues has ended. I was sure that the electronic system with numbers will eliminate this pathology.
During the last Cities Migration Policies forum in Lublin we have discussed the problem of language acquaintance of workers in offices concerned with legalization of a stay or employment of foreigners. This is really annoying, especially in smaller towns. But still I believe that the change is about to come as the immigration policy is not in its infancy.
A propos the term ”third countries”. When I hear “the third”, comes to my mind a poem by La Fontaine about two thieves and a donkey (published in 1668). The thieves were arguing about stealing the donkey. When the fight was getting fiercer and fiercer, came the third one and took the animal. This is a poem from the times of primary school in Dakar. “The third one” has dual meaning here: on one hand he resembles reconciliation, but cunning on the other. I do understand that the host country is “ the first one”, “the second one” stands for other EU states. In the end is “the third”. Thought provoking!
Citizens of third countries have no voice: participation in political life is extremely important element of integration strategy. Participation in elections, deciding on local authorities, full participation in social organizations is considering foreigners as citizens. As the aim of integration is harmony between foreigners and host society, what is the argument against letting people speak on matters of their own? One works, pays taxes, cofounds pensions; this is one of the reasons why Europe needs immigrants. Why such person cannot have the right to decide about issues concerning own district or community?
We know well that the integration is a matter of local policies. Only this may provide reasonable effects. Sure, the state creates migration policy, proposes solutions on system and institutions basis, but sooner or later local policies do the job. This is because integration is territorial issue.
The integration barriers may be disassembled, we may get get rid of fences, lower some of them. This will allow immigrants to feel comfortable. This comfort is necessary for a human, it changes the attitude and allows to feel attachment to a new place. This is what integration is about.