Sunday, July 10, 2005

Association in Crisis

Association in Crisis

One of the problems that faces every small NGO is funding. When you work at the grassroots level in a not-for-profit association, it is unavoidable that a part of your time will be dedicated to finding sponsors and partners in order to cover the inevitable costs. There are many organisations out there whose sole aim is to promote the activity of civil society and foundations, large NGOs and international agencies all have funds set aside for such activity.

When I first started working with the Association for Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Poland, I was surprised, if not shocked, to discover that there was no long-term funding in place and that to date the association had survived by jumping from short-term project to short-term project. The fact that the association has survived is thanks in part to the flexibility of the management, and the fact that from time to time personal donations have covered the costs of running the association.

This way of dealing with the situation however is not sustainable. The association is run solely by volunteers and if those working here are not paid, it is impossible, and unprofessional, to expect these people to cover costs that should be financed through other means. This personal generosity, as well as its saving grace, has also been a negative factor for the association. Long-term funding opportunities have not been exploited fully, although admittedly the application processes for such funds are lengthy and complicated. Larger organisations have not been prepared to cooperate with the association which also makes access to funds such as those from the European Commission seem out of reach. Most of the association’s energy has been put into activities rather than strategic thinking and long-term planning. This is obviously important but now we are facing a crisis.

As I write the office of the association is behind payments on its rent. The two telephone lines have been disconnected due to unpaid bills and this hinders the correct functioning of the office. The funds given by the regional authority have been used to cover the costs so far this year, and they tell us there is no scope for additional funding. The letters sent to international organisations have met with no offers, although several organisations such as the OSCE and British Council have praised the work of the association and have offered future opportunities for collaboration.

Without finding a way for the basic costs of the association to be covered it will not survive. We have decided to continue our general search with those large organisations that could be in a position to help. However, if you think you might be in a position to help, please see the Voice of Exile website (see links) and contact us. The money will go to a fund which will only be used for covering the basic costs of the office, enabling all the dedicated volunteers to continue the essential work of the association. In return we will keep you up to date with all the current activities of the association.

We believe such an association is vital for protecting the rights of asylum seekers and refugees in Poland. Please help us to continue our work.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Racist incidents in Warsaw

Recent Incidents

The Association for Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Poland has been shocked and saddened by a recent surge in hate crimes in Poland.

The first attack in recent months took place in the centre of town in a busy KFC restaurant. Emmanuel Bianda was waiting to order his food when an unprovoked stranger attacked him. As the security guards stood watching, the Cameroonian was hit around his head and face, which resulting in a hospital visit and continued medical attention. Only when a group of Africans intervened were the Police and ambulance called. The association is currently in discussions with KFC for compensation for the victim, but as yet the only offer has been, rather patronisingly, for free food.

This attack was followed by a violent deportation at the Siekierki refugee centre in which a Russian mother and son were brutally woken, the son hit over the head, and told they had ten minutes to collect their possessions before being taken away, reportedly for deportation to Latvia.

Also of deep concern was a break-in to the same centre in which a man was stabbed and during which the police failed to respond to calls for assistance. Only when the Association’s president Emmanuel Zuu intervened did the police arrive and investigate the incident.

Then members of the Association were shocked to read an article in the June edition of Wiedza i życie entitled ‘A black woman in Africa is not a human being.’ This inflammatory article was written with little regard for journalistic rules and was based on arbitrary ‘proof’. One reaction to such provocation, in which we hope to have a constructive impact and start to change some prejudices, is our upcoming debate.

In the past couple of weeks another attack occurred at the Pizza Hut located next to the KFC in which the other attack took place. This time, a group of African footballers were attacked with chairs while leaving the restaurant. They also ended up in hospital, this time with dislocated and fractured arms.

These incidents are constant reminders of the problems facing refugees and asylum seekers in their everyday life in Poland. It is to be hoped that activities run by the Association will help to counter this worrying social trend and confront prejudice and intolerance wherever it shows its face.