Seventy-three Forced Labourers Sent Home

Seventy-three Ukrainian women living in squalid conditions in one house are having to leave Poland today because they do not have permission to work in a Christmas-wreath factory. Despite their difficult living conditions, most of the women say they want to stay because they need the money.

Immigration officials say that although the women have legal visas, they are deporting them because they had permits only for agricultural work, not factory work. Their deportation means they cannot return to Poland legally for a year.

The women were working in Trzeborz, near the city of Pyrzyce in northern Poland. They earned 7 złoty an hour making Christmas wreaths and decorations.

Lieutenant Colonel Jacek Ogrodowicz of the Polish Border Guard said the owner of the factory, Jan Siwiec, faces sanctions in the case, although it will depend on what testimony the women give. Prosecutors could accuse him of hiring the women even though he knew their work permits prohibited them from doing factory work. He could also face an accusation of keeping the women in unsanitary living conditions. The house where the women lived was unfinished, with only concrete floors and walls. Not one room had a window. There was no space between the beds jammed into each bedroom. The beds contained no pillows or bedding ? just straw mattresses. Even worse was the bathroom situation. None had bathtubs or showers ? only sinks. And there were only a handful of sinks for all 73 women.

“These women were living like animals,” said Ludmila Aleksiejewa of the Helsinki-based International Federation for Human Rights.
The women, who don’t want to lose their jobs, downplayed their living conditions.

“It isn’t too bad – it isn’t too bad,” one of them told the Polish radio station RMF-FM. “We have water, a kitchen and heat.”

The women said they don’t understand why they have to leave if they want to work. Maria Andrusiak recently lost her husband. “I wanted to earn some money in Poland for the tombstone,” she told the Szczecin Voice newspaper. “Now I’m alone with my four children. In Ukraine there is no work.”

Hanna Jackiel came to Poland to help two adult daughters and their grandchildren. “But now everything is over,” she sighed.

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