EU enlargement splits up Polish family

30th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

The EU has completely changed the life of Malgorzata Trala, whose two children are now spread across Europe.

Nowa Huta -- Malgorzata Trala lives in Nowa Huta in southern Poland. Andrzej, her son, works in Dublin, while her daughter Agatala lives in Lincoln, in eastern England.

Tens of thousands of Polish families have been broken up by labour migration after Poland joined the European Union on May 1, 2004. London, Dublin and other major cities in Europe have all had a major influx of Poles, Latvians, Lithuanians and others from the 10 countries that joined the bloc.

"Andrzej left for Ireland June 15, 2005, two weeks after finishing high school," said his mother, a 52-year-old nurse sitting in a room festooned with Guinness beer mugs.

As soon as she finished school last year, Agata followed her brother.

There was not much to leave behind. All three lived in a tiny flat in Nowa Huta, a working class suburb of the historic Polish city of Krakow.

At first, Agata joined her brother in Dublin. She later spread her wings and left for Lincoln to be with her Polish boyfriend. Now she works in a pastry shop earning 180 pounds (200 euros) a week.

"The EU changed our lives completely,” said Malgorzata, who is proud of her children's success despite her own loneliness. “Our family is spread across three corners of Europe.”

"Andrzej has proven he can work hard to study and at the same time pay his rent,” she chuckled. “I'm grateful to Ireland. It taught him well. Before it was mum who had to do everything.”

In Nowa Huta where the Arcelor-Mittal steel company laid off many workers after taking over the local plant, Andrzej would have had little opportunity to earn a decent living.

"As soon as I arrived in Dublin, I found a job in at a printers for 1,600 euros -- that's 10 times the minimum wage in Poland," Andrzej said. "After working two months, I paid off my debts and I was able to travel to Athens to watch a game with Cracovia, my (Polish) football team. But I don't want to be a ‘Polak’ who cleans up after the Irish."

Ireland's boom years allowed Andrzej to find a better job. He now organises shipments for a maritime transport company and has taken up logistics studies to further his career.

Agata also wants to learn how to make dentures at a school in Poland. She hopes to start her studies in May.

"It was very hard at first. I missed my friends horribly and always thought about my mother," Agata recalled, speaking English in a thick Polish accent. "Now I have more and more friends here and I think it's a good country to live in. It's still very hard for mum -- she lived with both of us and now she's all alone."

The family stays in touch via the telephone and the Internet. "Agata calls me almost every second day," says Malgorzata, who has visited Britain 16 times in four years. "Every time I bring them Polish specialties. Once I travelled with 200 pierogis (Polish ravioli). If there's one thing they don't like over there, it's the food."

"The emigration of Poles, it's good for Poland on the condition that they return one day," she said. "We need to air out the country. We have nearly 50 years of communism behind us."

Poland's move into the EU in 2004 cast off some of the final vestiges of its four decades as a Soviet satellite state up until 1989.

"Our generation will change our country. The experience we've gained here, we'll bring it back to Poland one day," said Agata.

But will those who left after 2004 ever return?

"Contrary to what the experts predicted, for the moment the economic crisis has not scared the away the 1.2 million Poles who emigrated to the British isles after May 1, 2004," said Professor Krystyna Iglicka, a demographer and consultant to the Polish government.

Even though he has no immediate plan to return, Andrzej wants all the same to buy an apartment in Nowa Huta as an investment for the future.

Maja Czarnecka/AFP/Expatica

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