Editor's Viewpoint: Time to reach out to Poles among us
Published 07/05/2010 | 08:00
Among the many immigrants who have come to Northern Ireland in the last decade, those from Poland probably have made the most significant impact.
There are an estimated 35,000 Poles living here now and their influence is visible in virtually every corner of the province. Fittingly, we celebrate their presence through the wide range of events that make up Polish cultural week.
When Poland joined the EU, the UK, including Northern Ireland, was a much sought after destination for young Polish people hoping to fund a new lifestyle for themselves. And, initially, that was the case, but life for many of the emigrants to the province has soured somewhat in more recent times. The recession has meant that there are fewer jobs to go around, even at the minimum wage, and there is a more sinister spectre in the background - racism.
Shamefully, one in four Polish people living here feel they have been victimised because of their background. Not only are they emigrants, but most of them are Catholics, another reason used by bigots to justify their attacks, both verbal and physical.
Racism against any visitors to these shores must be deplored, but the Polish emigrants have every reason to feel even more aggrieved. In World War 2 Polish armed forces made up the fourth largest contingent of Allied soldiers, airmen and sailors after the Americans, Soviets and British. They fought gallantly to defeat Nazism, yet are subjected to fascist attacks in this province today. What a way to repay the descendants of those who ensured that democracy still rules here.
The events being held this week give us an opportunity to learn more about the lifestyle, food and culture of Poland. They should enable barriers to be broken down and help in the integration of our visitors who have contributed significantly to the local economy in recent years. Go along and make them feel welcome.