Migrant communities, including the Polish community, have been ineffectively engaged with during the pandemic, and the State needs to do more to engage migrant groups if the country is to fully recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. That’s according to Forum Polonia, a network organisation for Polish community groups, that met recently to discuss the disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on the Polish community in Ireland.

Chair of Forum Polonia, Barnaba Dorda said: “The Polish community have had a strong presence in Ireland, representing the biggest ethnic minority here for over 15 years. Due to our European heritage, we blended in and became an invisible community. As a result, our integration needs have been repeatedly neglected over the years.

“The Covid-19 pandemic exposed many inequalities affecting migrant communities, but there are areas where the Polish community has been particularly impacted. Eastern European women and amongst them Polish women, were disproportionately affected by pandemic related job losses. As well as that, the lack of culturally appropriate information on the Covid-19 vaccination program, and the failure to engage with grassroots Polish organisations left our community vulnerable to disinformation – creating anxiety and distrust of Covid-19 vaccines.

“The current situation is the result of years of lack of investment in the integration of migrant communities from Poland and other Eastern European countries. Hearing feedback from our network members working at a grassroots level, it is clear that Polish and Eastern European communities have been almost entirely left behind in the State’s implementation of integration plans, and the Covid-19 response.”

Bart Zrdojowy, Chair of Polish Community in Waterford commented on their efforts to secure support for their work.

“We have been trying to raise an alarm on the systemic lack of investment in the integration of our communities for a number of years. When the pandemic started, we instantly recognised particular vulnerabilities of members of our community. But, we are constantly underfunded and we work on a voluntary basis, unable to provide the much needed services. If we were engage with at an earlier stage of the pandemic, we could have avoided the current crisis situation”

Echoing Barts’s comments on the rollout of Covid-19 vaccination programme, Barnaba continued: “Forum Polania is surprised and disappointed to see that migrant-led organisations, like members of our network, were not consulted on the Covid-19 response program for migrant communities. We have the cultural knowledge, language skills as well as links on the ground. These are essential elements to the successful implementation of any integration projects, not to mention managing a national crisis situation like pandemic.

“The contribution of Polish migrants to Irish society is one of the reasons for Ireland’s successful recovery from the economic crash in the late 2000’s, and equally the successful investment in and engagement with Polish communities will be a key factor in Ireland’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

“When it comes to responding to Covid-19 and the Polish community, the damage has been done and it will take time and effort to fix the situation. We call for resourcing and better collaboration with Polish and Easter European grassroot organisations. We are ready to work with local and State authorities to bring our communities on board the national vaccination program.”