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Poles in Britain trickle home, but most here to stay

Poles in Britain trickle home, but most here to stay

LONDON (AFP) - Walk down some streets in west London these days and you could be in downtown Warsaw: from thriving Polish supermarkets and cafes to the hum of Slavic chatter and rich smell of Polish dumplings.

And while some of the hundreds of thousands of Poles who have flooded into Britain since 2004 are starting to trickle home, the majority plan to stay, community leaders say.

"I would say about 20 to 30 percent of them are leaving now. The weak pound has been a big factor," said 38-year-old Chris Tadel, who runs a Polish bookshop in Ealing, west London.

"They have worked two or three years here and now they are buying property in Poland and want to live there again. I'm not going though. Both my children are in school here and I have the businesses now."

When Poland and seven other ex-communist states joined the European Union in 2004, giving their citizens the right to work in other member states, the British government forecast that less than 100,000 would make their way here.

It was a huge miscalculation.

Official figures released in February showed nearly 800,000 people from the eight new EU members have applied to work in Britain, with thousands more not showing up in the figures because they are self-employed.

The majority of the influx has come from Poland, with most estimates putting the Polish population in Britain at around one million.

As well as London there are concentrations of Poles from Southampton to Inverness, as well as across the Irish Sea in Northern Ireland.

Their economic impact is hotly debated -- while the government says the recent migrants have fuelled Britain's economic growth, a parliamentary report concluded they were putting too much strain on public services.

What is not in doubt is that Poles have had a marked impact on British towns and cities -- not to mention the nation's kitchens and bathrooms.

Newspaper reports of Polish builders and plumbers quitting Britain are frequently greeted with readers' laments that they work harder, and are cheaper, than their British counterparts.

-- Even supermarket chain Tesco stocks Polish food --

The Poles' growing influence on British society can also be seen in the increasing number of goods and services aimed specifically at their tastes.

Supermarket chain Tesco began stocking Polish food two years ago -- pickled vegetables and Tyskie beer are big sellers -- and in May, it launched a Polish-language home delivery website.

Britain's top-selling daily newspaper, The Sun, produced six Polish-language editions to coincide with the Polish football team's participation in Euro 2008.

The "Polski Sun" mixed news from Poland with Polish-language translations of the Sun's British columnists, and the infamous topless girls the paper features on Page Three were from Poznan or Gniezna rather than London and Manchester.

There is clearly money to be made: as well as his bookshop Tadel recently opened a cafe, the Polish Village, nearby, with specialities including pierogi, hearty meat or cabbage dumplings guaranteed to warm the heart of the most homesick Pole.

Yet despite the signs that they are putting down roots, anecdotal evidence suggests that Poles are starting to pack their bags, with the weakness of the pound and the strengthening Polish economy the main reasons for leaving.

The pound (1.2 euros, 1.9 dollars) is now worth about 4.2 zlotys compared with more than seven when Poland joined the EU, making British pay packets worth considerably less to migrants' families back home.

They typically send 500 pounds a month to their families, according to the British Polish Chamber of Commerce. In 2004 that would have bought 3,565 zlotys, but is now worth 2,130, a 40-percent fall.

Wiktor Moszczynski, spokesman for the Federation of Poles in Great Britain, dismisses talk of a mass return.

"It is more of a trickle at the moment, but it will certainly build because the zloty is getting stronger," he told AFP.

"But they have to have something to go back to -- there are parts of Poland which are flourishing but others with 20 percent unemployment.

"There are many reasons for them to stay in Britain. Many, for example, find that working conditions are better here than in Poland, where there is cut-throat competition and a far more hierarchical system.

"The most recent survey showed that 60 percent would still be here in five years' time and those who do stay are constantly going backwards and forwards from London to Poland as if it was just another city in England."


Re: Poles in Britain trickle home, but most here to stay

"and those who do stay are constantly going backwards and forwards from London to Poland as if it was just another city in England"

Very true.

Most of the Poles in the UK, Ireland, Germany, Holland, Sweden ... don't really settle in any real long-term sense. It's about fairly easy money made in a short time. They have no real interest in the country they move to for this money.