I’m very happy to introduce Mikolaj Pawlak, a prominent Polish scholar & researcher who work on migration and integration policies. He is an assistant professor at the Institute of Social Prevention and Resocialisation, University of Warsaw.
interviewed by Mehmet Enes Beşer (@mehmetenesbeser)
Welcome Mikolaj. Thanks for accepting our request to interview. Could you introduce yourself to our readers?
Hi Mehmet. I am very happy to talk with Bosphorus Migration Studies. I am sociologist interested in migration policies, how the presence of migrants in a given society is framed and what kind of collective action is taken towards migrants. I work at the University of Warsaw, which is the largest and the finest university in Poland. I am a member of an interdisciplinary team of scholars at the Institute of Social Prevention and Resocialisation, where we merge perspectives of sociology, psychology, criminology and education studies to research social problems.
Your recent book titled Organizational Response to a New Problem was on the integration of refugees to the Polish society. As I know, you are an expert of the topic of integration. Are you optimistic for adaptation of immigrants to Poland?
In the book you mentioned, I was analyzing how different organizations (schools, welfare centers, and non-governmental organizations) deal with an issue they perceive as a new for them. The presence of refugees who have been arriving in Poland since 1990 was a perfect case to answer such research question. Generally speaking, immigration is for Poland something new. Our country is still mostly a sending society. There are large Polish diasporas in the USA, Great Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and many other places. Most often the reaction of people, when they tackle something new, is to copy the actions of the ones recognized as successful in a given area. Until recently Poland was adapting elements of integration policies of other Western European states. So far I would say that it was without much success in the case of refugees. In Poland, the smoother is the adaptation of labor immigrants from Ukraine. Yet, it is not thanks to the policies but rather due to the cultural closeness of our societies. Ukrainian and Polish are very similar languages. Our cultures are also not very distant, so it is relatively easy for Ukrainians to adapt to life in Poland.
What about the immigration policy of Poland? We are familiar with Hungary’s disputable policies but Poland is not well-known. Could you give a short view?
The immigration policy of Poland until 2015 was not a topic of the public debate. It was run in a rather technocratic manner. Poland as a party of Geneva Convention was accepting refugees, and as a member of European Union observing the Dublin Regulation. In the case of labor migration, we have a quite open policy towards selected post-soviet countries: it is relatively easy to receive visa which grants the right to an employment for up to six months. This possibility is used mostly by Ukrainians. Events of summer 2015, when people were crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece, which was named as ‘refugee crisis’ brought a lot of public attention. EU relocation and resettlement schemes introduction coincided with parliamentary elections in Poland in which for the first time the topic of migration was one of the most important subjects of the campaign. Now Poland is ruled by conservative politicians whose attitudes towards migration from countries of cultures perceived as distant are very negative. We may actually talk about islamophobia without a significant Muslim community. What I perceive as something very dangerous is that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is a role model for current rulers of Poland. Changes in some Polish legislation regulating migration are already drafted and I do not like them: they follow the infamous Hungarian model. So paradoxically the fact that the immigration is not any longer publicly ignored is not opening the window for a rational debate bur rather for a populism and policies driven by emotions.
Are NGOs active in the aim of adaptation of foreigners to the society? What is the role of the state there?
I have to admit that we have several non-governmental organizations very active in assisting migrants in adaptation in Poland. There are already associations established by migrants themselves. The state is mostly concerned with the integration of forced migrants and organizationally it is done by welfare centers run by the local governments. Until recently there was a quite good co-operation between different stakeholders: state agencies, NGO’s, local governments. The recent conservative turn started breaking this co-operation.
You are also working in University of Warsaw. Do you have courses like migration studies in BA, MA,or PhD?
The university of Warsaw offers plenty of courses related to migration but they are usually part of broader programmes like sociology, social work or applied social sciences. The Centre of Migration Research at the University of Warsaw offers a postgraduate program in international migration. I have a pleasure to teach courses on integration in this programme. These are the most challenging classes I ever have! The students are professionals who work in the migration field and they wish to improve their knowledge. It is really challenging to discuss issues of migrant integration with the class of students who are Border Polices officers, civil servants dealing with work-permits, activists of NGO’s assisting immigrants etc. They practical knowledge is enormous and my role is just to facilitate their discussions and provide them with some broader theoretical framing.
Do you recommend the university for researchers who come from other countries?
As I told you the University of Warsaw is a leading Polish university. The number of our international faculty as well as students is increasing. We co-operate with many universities and research centers in the world. For example, I am recently involved in a research project on how the refugee crisis is managed in Hungary, Poland, and Romania. We have a very enthusiastic team of researchers from the three countries.
Could you follow other examples of integration and adaptation processes of refugees in different countries like Germany or Turkey?
Being frankly with you, people in Poland would not consider Turkey as a model for adaptation of refugee policies. We are very much oriented towards Western Europe and usually, we search for models there. On the other hand, it is very hard to transfer best practices from countries which as Germany are much richer than Poland. I always say that we should look closely at integration policies in countries like Italy, Spain, Portugal or Ireland. There are very much different from each other but they share one common thing: migration on the larger scale started there later than in Western Europe but earlier than in Poland. The idea is not to copy specific policies but rather to learn how these countries were learning from the more experienced.
Finally, did you have a chance to take a look at our website? Would you want to recommend something to our research groups?
I like your website. I think it has a chance of developing as an interesting source of information for various people: from researchers to regular people looking for a verified knowledge in the age of fake facts and post-truth politics.
Thanks a lot. See you and have a nice week!