Hostages of the System: “There were around forty men locked away together in confined space. You begin to feel claustrophobic”

At the center, everyone has a story to tell. Those who have been smuggled into Poland illegally show the greatest determination and, at the same time, are the most desperate. They usually had to sell everything they had and some of them spent 15 years’ worth of savings to be able to pay ten thousand dollars for such a transport. They travelled in terrible conditions, sometimes risking death of exhaustion. They arrived in Poland from Pakistan or Afghanistan and it was usually a one-way trip for them. Each one of them had his own reasons and his own fears.

I was raised on a beautiful Asian island cherished by tourists. It was a wonderful place but it felt kind of cramped for me. I wanted to see the world. First, I spent two years studying in Australia and then I started dreaming of going to Europe. I came to Poland in 2007, did a B.A. a course, and met a girl who gave birth to our daughter in 2011. That’s what happened to me in a nutshell.

Monica’s pregnancy was a difficult one, there had been some complications and she had to undergo Caesarean section. She felt terrible after giving birth to our child and she wasn’t even able to walk. The situation had grown so serious that we had to move house to live closer to the hospital. I looked after her and the child, whom I fed, changed, bathed, and tucked in for sleep in the evening. I was happy to be a dad.

I looked after our child and my ailing partner on my own so I was not able to continue studying at the university. Because of that, I lost my student visa. I was afraid that if I reported it, I would be sent back to my home country and my girlfriend would be left without anyone to take care of her. I did not realize that I had the right to apply for a humanitarian residence permit thanks to having a family in Poland.

After some time, Monica felt better and decided to resume working while I stayed home with our child.

I went to Cracow in July 2017. Two policemen came up to me and asked me to show them my ID. I drew their attention because my clothing was too thick for the season. I left the hotel early in the morning and I put a jacket on when it had been colder but the weather turned warm later on during the day. They must have thought that I was in Poland for the first time and they decided to check what I was doing there. My residence permit was no longer valid then.

Afterwards, already in a courtroom, a representative of the Border Guard said that they had not been able to confirm my identity because I did not have a valid identity document with me. I was sent to a detention center in Lesznowola. The judge said that I was going to spend three months there. It was nine months.

On my way to the center I asked one of the guards about what I was supposed to do and he said to me: “Listen, my job is to send you back home and you are asking me for advice?” After that, however, he explained to me how my situation could develop from there and even provided me with the names of some non-governmental organizations which could help me. I arrived at my destination late in the evening after the sun had already set and I was a little bit taken aback at the sight of a gate and fence which seemed very much like a prison to me.

There were around forty men locked away together in confined space. You begin to feel claustrophobic and in dire need of more room for yourself when you can’t be out of sight of others even for a moment, when there are constantly people passing by you, when you are nudged and shoved aside, and there are people having conversations right next to you all the time. Under such circumstances, even a tiny thing can result in you losing it and getting very angry. We were aware that there were cameras everywhere but arguments never seemed to end, sometimes even getting pretty violent.

There were four computers for the forty of us. Sometimes one of them would break down. Each one of us had around half an hour of internet access per day. During those 30 minutes, you had to answer your emails, contact your lawyer, and check up on your family, all the time with a line of irritated people behind your back and with somebody rushing you. Once, a man from Iran did not leave the computer station when he was supposed to. He only exceeded the time assigned to him by maybe a minute or two, he just needed some more time to send his messages and sign out from his email account. A big man from Nigeria got so angry because of that that they started a fight. You could also barter away your internet access time for cigarettes at a rate of three or four of them for half an hour.

You do get a phone, an old model without a camera, but you have to have a SIM card of your own. To get one, you need to register at a cellular operator’s sales point which may prove difficult if you are kept in a guarded center to which you were delivered straight from the border. Somebody can also send you a SIM card to the center but who is supposed to do that when you have not got to know anybody in Poland yet? Many people there have no one to ask for help.

You can order goods from a shop twice a week. There are women there who make a list and then bring what you ordered to you. However, you can’t use money from your bank account – you need to give them cash. It doesn’t matter if you have been at the center for a month or for a year, you are allowed to spend a total of PLN 500  and not a coin more. That is not much, especially in light of the fact that you also have to buy additional food and, in my case, cigarettes for that. I spent my money in a very economical way but I ran out of it after 3 months anyway.

At the center, everyone has a story to tell. Those who have been smuggled into Poland illegally show the greatest determination and, at the same time, are the most desperate. They usually had to sell everything they had and some of them spent 15 years’ worth of savings to be able to pay ten thousand dollars for such a transport. They travelled in terrible conditions, sometimes risking death of exhaustion. They arrived in Poland from Pakistan or Afghanistan and it was usually a one-way trip for them. Each one of them had his own reasons and his own fears.

In my case, I only failed to fulfil an administrative obligation so there is nothing terrible awaiting me in my country but I’m very afraid of being sent back to it anyway. My relationship with Monica eventually turned sour and we broke up. In spite of that, we managed to remain friends with each other. She was offered a promotion and moved to Germany with our daughter and I wasn’t able to go with them. That’s the price which I paid for my short-sightedness.

There’s no way for me to be allowed to stay in Poland for humanitarian reasons now due to having a family here as my child is not in the country on an everyday basis. I could go back to my country, wait until I am no longer forbidden to return to Poland and apply for a visa but then I would have to describe my previous visits to Europe. If I lie and then they discover it, and they will definitely discover it sooner or later, I will never be allowed to return to Europe. If I tell the truth, that I stayed in Europe for a time illegally and ended up in a detention center, the end result is going to be the same. This is why I keep appealing against decisions taken by different courts and that is why I have stayed in Poland. I can’t join my daughter in Germany, I can’t even pay a visit to her there because I would have to cross the border illegally. Monica and our daughter visit Poland regularly and, thanks to that, I have contact with her not only online. I count days between her visits. Officially, I can’t start working and I don’t want to start working illegally. That would be too risky. And so I ended up in a vicious cycle. Every month, I report to the Office for Foreigners on Taborowa in Warsaw. Other than that, I just wonder around the city, constantly thinking about my daughter.

 

Text: Magdalena Olga Olszewska
Translation: Michał Zwoliński
Drawing: Daniel Chmielewski

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