Economics, wars and conflicts,human rights issues and education represent the major reasons why Africans come to Poland in particular and Europe in general. But for the purpose of this article, I will only talk about the first point – economics – because it is by far, the most driving force for immigration into the West. Africans have not always flocked to Europe in pursuit of better lives. This mad dash for cash started around the early 80s (especially in the case of Nigeria).
In Nigeria,before the early 80s, people never had any reason to migrate to Europe. When we did,it was purely study purposes and at the end of the studies,we always went back home.
WHY? Because a good job was always guaranteed and waiting for us back home. Those were times when 1 Nigerian Naira was valued more than 1 USD or the British Pound. The Nigerian (and many other African economies) was great.
But then, there was a terrible epidemic that spread round most countries in Africa. This epidemic was military rule. The soldiers took over the governments,from Nigeria to Ghana,to Cameroon to Uganda, Togo, Sierra Leone, Liberia and many other African countries. These soldiers squandered the resources and looted the national treasuries. Inflation became rampant and everything became expensive and out of the reach of ordinary people.
In Nigeria, our currency – the Naira – became worthless. A dollar costed about 40 Naira. Jobs disappeared and hardship and hunger took over the large majority of the population.
As it is well known, survival, or the fight to stay alive is the most basic form of human nature.
When young Africans could no longer make a decent living in their countries, the only option available to them was to try outside their countries' borders. Europe became a very promising option to consider.
This represents the background about why many Africans ended up here.
There are lots of stories in Africa about how great it is to live and work in Europe. Many people in Africa believe that the best way to become rich or to secure ones future is to come to Europe. The activities of a few bad and corrupt African immigrants go a long way in encouraging that type of belief among the young Africans back home,and they risk everything to get here.
Those few bad immigrants (especially in the West) do many illegal things to get money. And when they do get this money, in many cases, lots of it, they go home to Africa and flash the cash. They buy big cars, build huge and beautiful houses and take up many of the most beautiful girls around. Simply put,they oppress the local young men.
These local men, having seen the ease with which these young men who returned from Europe throw money around,they swear to do everything to get here too. For them,it is not important how this money was made. Their expectation is that in Europe they too can make a lot of money,buy big cars,go back home,build huge houses, help their families and be happy.
When someone in Europe, Poland for example,tries to tell them that life in Europe is not as wonderful as they expect,that it is very possible to be here and be jobless. The response from these young men in Africa is always, ''If it is that bad,why are you still there? Why haven't you returned to Africa if Poland is that bad?''
The point here is that for most of the would – be immigrants, Poland, like the rest of Europe, is a land of milk and honey, a land of great opportunities and a ticket out of the land of poverty.
Those are the expectations!
Having arrived in Poland, the immigrant needs to find work,and find it fast. He must have had ideas of finding work in some factories or hotels or in some big supermarkets. Others believed they could even become taxi or lorry drivers in Poland.
But the first shock the immigrant would have is that he can not do any of these jobs, in fact, these jobs are not even available.
After some time, the immigrant would be told that even the Polish people themselves are out of work,that many of them are running out in their thousands to other countries like the UK, Ireland etc. Having heard that chilling truth, the reality would gradually begin to creep in.
But many of them won't give up without a fight, after all, they are now in Europe!
The smart and educated ones would try one other option. They would print their CVs and try to look for jobs on their own,after all,many of them have university degrees.
But the next frustration that would drag them down is language,or lack of it. They don't speak any Polish,and no English is used in any of the offices and job centres they go looking for jobs.
So, what next? Should they learn Polish language? They know that the knowledge of the language would offer them lots of opportunities. But,would they be ready to spend all 6 months just to learn Polish? What would they do in the interim? No! That's not why they came here! So, Polish language has to wait till further notice. Maybe,who knows,they might even learn the language on the streets on their own. But for now,they must find work,any kind of work.
And then,they hear about the Stadium.
They go there, and get another rude shock.
They had expected to see their fellow Africans in good shops selling their stuff. They expected the place to be some kind of shopping mall.
But it isn't!
But if they had to make money,they too must buy their own little tables and display their goods; they too must be ready to shout and compete for customers in any way they can.
For these immigrants, they had spent all that money,risked everything (even their lives) to come to Poland and now,the only way available to them to make a living is to hawk shoes and other goods like the way many people do in Africa! Is this really Europe? With all this noise? What happened to all the stories they heard about abundance of good jobs in Europe?
Many of the immigrants just suck it up and join the band wagon.
But some would never accept that kind of livelihood at the stadium. That is not why they travelled so far and risked so much. At least not when drugs are still being sold on the streets of Berlin and Zurich.
For this few, Poland has nothing to offer them. So, for them, the journey still continues to Germany or other countries in the West. Some manage to make it big there in the West,but others end up in prisons, some get deported and the very unlucky ones end up dead.
But even some of those who stayed behind in Poland are not better of. They had to endure the constant chase by the Police and the masked men from Urząd Celny. Their worst nightmare occur when their visas expire. Then they become illegals. They must spend all their time hiding from the Police and at the same time trying to make a living.
Some are lucky. But those who are not get caught by the police and sent to the Straż Graniczna at Okęcie. They would face certain deportation.
Among these African immigrants are those who are seen as lucky in many aspects. These are those who stay here legally and who have found some work to do,be it at the stadium or outside the stadium. But still, these people are not happy. These immigrants still face very huge challenges here in Poland.
Most of them cannot walk the street without being called ''kurwa czarne!'' ''Bambo.''
An African immigrant once said that he has been called ''kurwa czarne'' numerous times that sometimes he feels like that is his Polish name!
Numerous Africans in Poland get a lot of racial abuse from many Polish people.
Many of the Polish people who are not racists,unfortunately still have some funny stereotypic ideas about Africans. Some of them still think Africans live in the forests. That is why many of them find it hard to believe me when I tell them that I saw lions and elephants and giraffes for the first time in my life in 2005 here in Warsaw!
So, racism and negative stereotypes remain two of the greatest challenges and obstacles facing African migrants here in Poland.
Another such challenge is the lack of serious effort on the part of the Polish government to integrate the Africans into the Polish society.
There are no projects by the government to help in this integration process. The African community here in Poland are simply on their own. We learn what we learn,and achieve what we achieve just on our own. There is little or no recognition our presence here whatsoever.
Incidentally, the African community will for ever remain here in Poland. We will continue to grow in numbers. Many good ones will keep arriving every year. And many bad ones will also find their way here. We will not go away.
But what the Polish government does in making sure that those who are here get well integrated and accepted into the core of the Polish society will go a long way in reducing the desperation of many of these African immigrants.
Text by: Ify Nwamana, author: Stadium: The Devils' Playground