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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 September 2006, 12:52 GMT 13:52 UK
A 'small voice' for NI's Polish community
By Niall Blaney
BBC News Online

Glostik magazine
Glostik magazine targets the estimated 30,000-plus Poles living in NI

The challenges faced by Northern Ireland's burgeoning Polish community have been eased with the launch of the first magazine aimed specifically at its population.

Glosik - meaning "small voice" - is targeted at the estimated 30,000-plus Poles. There are more than 150,000 living in the Republic of Ireland.

Language remains the biggest barrier to integration says the magazine, which has a current print run of 5,000.

The publication is the brainchild of Polish business consultant Ewa Grosman, who runs the multi service agency Connect in Carrickfergus.

She stresses the importance of work-life balance within the community, of which 80-90% are well-educated under 35-year-olds "doing jobs far below their qualifications and abilities".

Many work in the service and food processing industries and Northern Ireland firms regularly travel to Poland to recruit workers.

However, with new investment and multi-national companies locating in Poland, the country is turning the tables and a delegation is set to come to Belfast and Dublin to entice Polish workers to return home.

Ewa Grosman
Once someone is settled here - after about six months - suddenly different issues become more relevant, such as registering with a GP, education, learning English and access to colleges is very important
Ewa Grosman

Officials in the Polish city of Wroclaw are planning the visit because they are worried that the country has been experiencing a brain drain for the last two years.

It is estimated that between one and three million people have left Poland for western Europe since 2004.

Poland has one of the highest unemployment rates in the European Union: 15.7%.

The country is also suffering from an exodus of doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers searching for better salaries.

Ewa says she wanted to use her Polish background, language skills and business experience to help firms and government bodies with the integration process of the migrant workers.

"It has become such a phenomenon. Northern Ireland has never had such a big wave of newcomers."

Housing and healthcare

Ewa says the magazine was the best channel for communicating to the Polish community, who have limited access to the internet.

The magazine deals with issues such as work, employment law, the education system, housing and healthcare.

It also tackles discrimination against migrant workers and building bridges and understanding between communities.

The city of Wroclaw
Wroclaw authorities are planning to visit NI to recruit workers

"Once somebody enters the country, there is the language barrier, registration for a national insurance number and the ability to find a job," says Ewa.

"Obviously, there is then housing and finding appropriate accommodation which can prove to be a problem.

"Once someone is settled here - after about six months - suddenly different issues become more relevant, such as registering with a GP, education, learning English and access to colleges is very important."

The magazine also tries to explain the troubled history of Ireland to its latest immigrants. The first issue carried a feature on the Orange Order and football legend George Best, while the second translates the rules of hurling.

However, as well as implementing a support system for employment, health and housing, members of the Polish community are also in need of spiritual support.

Between May and August this year, four young Polish men took their own lives.

There is one Polish chaplain who covers Northern Ireland. The young priest - Father Mariusz Dabrowski - has been kept busy by a Polish community which is more than 99% Catholic.

The community has also been helped enormously by the Protestant churches.

'Return to their homeland'

There have been several racially motivated attacks - including petrol bombings - on the homes of Eastern Europeans in Northern Ireland.

Despite such incidents, Ewa says she has never experienced any form of discrimination.

"I find Northern Ireland very friendly... now and again you may find someone who gives a nasty comment - but it happens everywhere.

"The average migrant worker in Northern Ireland does not experience discrimination on a daily basis - if it was so bad they wouldn't be here."

A hurler
Magazine explains topics such as hurling and the Orange Order to readers

However, Ewa believes that the majority of Polish migrants will return to their homeland.

"When you look at the experience in the UK during the 1980s when there was a large influx, some people returned and some stayed," she says.

"More and more young Polish families are sending their kids to school here and are treating Northern Ireland as home.

"But I think that 60-70% will go back eventually."

Part of the reasoning for this prediction is the current focus of European Union funding on Poland. It acceded to the EU in 2004.

"With all the EU funding and the focus on Poland now, Poland is developing very quickly and all the money being sent back to Poland is energising the Polish economy," says Ewa.

"I would hope that within the next 5-6 years, Poland will experience what Ireland is experiencing now

"With what might become the 'Slavic Tiger', there will be more and more opportunities for people to go back to Poland."

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