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Polish Community In Britain Targeted After Brexit Vote


The largest source of immigrants to the U.K. is India. Second is Poland. The Polish population in Britain has exploded since 2004, the year Poland joined the European Union. That allows Poles the right to settle anywhere within the European Union without restriction. Jakub Krupa is an activist who heads Poles in UK, which works with Polish groups there. He's also a correspondent for the Polish Press Agency, and he joins us from London. Welcome to the program.

JAKUB KRUPA: Thank you.

SIEGEL: We just heard a French immigrant in London worried about her future in the United Kingdom. What are the concerns you're hearing from Polish migrants there?

KRUPA: Oh, there are a lot of them. Obviously, after the Brexit vote, there's a lot of concern in the Polish community on different levels. So the first level is about legal issues and whether anything will change following this vote for the Polish community or not. And then people are afraid of visas, work permits, additional administrative procedures they would need to go through because being a member of the European Union since 2004, Poles did not really have to go through this anymore. But also on the other levels, there's this worry, which is basically about what we've seen over the last 72 hours, which is a lot of negative verbal abuses towards Polish community in the U.K.

SIEGEL: A Polish cultural center in West London was vandalized over the weekend. How many such incidents are you aware of in Britain since then?

KRUPA: The graffiti you've mentioned - it's the first ever in the history of the Center, which is quite telling about how bad is the situation in terms of emotions in this debate. We've heard a lot of stories about people being verbally abused. I think that's the primary source of worry at the moment, with people being told that they should go home, stop stealing our jobs and so on. I think that's extremely worrying and pretty sad because many people feel at home in the U.K., and they don't really want to hear things like that, obviously.

SIEGEL: Many people have called the Brexit vote xenophobic. Would you and can you empathize at all with an English voter who says there's just been too much immigration too soon and mostly too much of it from the same place, Eastern Europe?

KRUPA: I certainly would not call it xenophobic, and I do sympathize with people who are worried about the scale and base of immigration to the U.K. Just thinking about the fact that since 2004 until now - so in 12 years - the inflow of people from Poland is more than 800,000. That's a big community moving basically from one country to another. And then for the British government and for local authorities, it is tasked for them to make sure that they use those resources in a way that makes sure that there are no tensions, you know, connected to the fact that there are more people coming to the society.

SIEGEL: People often describe Polish migrants to the U.K. as being there for low-wage jobs because a low-wage job in the U.K. looks pretty good if you're coming from Poland - or for that matter, people come from Romania. What is the breakdown? How many of the 850,000 are doing what you'd call low-wage work?

KRUPA: It would be about 50 or 60 percent who work in different kinds of services - it can be restaurants, it can be shops. But, obviously, you have another 30 to 40 percent who work in professional jobs, often highly qualified and highly skilled.

SIEGEL: What do you expect to happen? What change do you think there'll be in that population? Do you think most Poles will end up staying, becoming U.K. citizens? What's your expectation?

KRUPA: So just before the vote, we did a poll asking more than 6,000 people - which is a representative sample about what their views are about the Brexit and what they'd want to do - obviously, most of them said that if they could, they would have voted to stay in the European Union. But then when we asked if there's a Brexit vote, what are they going to do? Most of them said, we're going to stay anyway. And now we have approximately 40 to 50 percent saying that they're going to stay, whatever happens. And we have a next 20, 26, 28, 30 percent of people saying, we want to stay in the U.K., but if there is a serious negative sentiment towards migrants and/or additional administrative regulations that would make it difficult for them to stay in this country, I'm sure they would consider going back to Poland.

SIEGEL: That's Jakub Krupa, Polish activist and journalist, who lives in London. Mr. Krupa, thanks for talking to us.

KRUPA: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.