Updated: Saturday, 26 April 2014 14:10 | By Agence France-Presse

Polish MP confronts hardships of migrant life in London

Sacrificing his bed for the floor and his corner office for a building site, a Polish MP says his mission to discover what attracts his countrymen to Britain in such numbers has been testing, but important for the future of his nation.


Polish MP confronts hardships of migrant life in London

Polish MP Artur Debski poses for pictures in Whitechapel, east London, on April 16, 2014 - by Leon Neal

Artur Debski, head of opposition centre-left party Twoj Ruch (Your Movement), came to London on a £20 flight (25 euros, $33.5) to try to understand why tens of thousands of Poles move to Britain each year.

He set himself the challenge of living on £15 a day. Having slept for the first three nights on a mattress on the floor, Debski was finally taken in by a Pole living in Poplar, a densely populated district of east London.

"I lived like them (Polish immigrants) for three days, but it wasn't good for my health. I couldn't eat properly," the politician admitted to AFP.

Despite his sacrifices, Debski confessed to spending £200 in his first week, almost twice his initial budget.

Trips to the local job centre proved fruitless, but the MP soon found work thanks to a Polish man living in the area.

"I worked for two days as a handyman, working with a hammer, and spent the other four days translating documents from English to Polish," he recalled. "I was paid £284.

"It was the first time I've ever had a boss," joked the 45-year-old former businessman, who entered politics in 2011.

- Emigration 'dangerous' -

After a week and a half in London, Debski said he thinks he knows why more than 500,000 Poles have settled in the UK since 2004 -- when Poland entered the European Union -- despite a growing economy back home.

"Here, there are fewer restrictions," he mused. "The British system helps to create wealth."

However, among the hundreds of Poles he has met since arriving, Debski came across nine men living in a homeless shelter.

Many back home dismissed his trip as a publicity stunt, but Debski claimed all the Poles he had met in London "told me that it was a good idea", and highlighted the growing threat of emigration.

"Eighty percent of them told me they plan to remain in Britain," he added.

"More than two million Poles live abroad out of a population of 38 million. It's tremendous. Emigration is dangerous for us.

"Last year, there were more deaths than births in Poland," he explained. "That was the first time since World War II. If everybody leaves, who will be paying our pensions?"

Following his return to Poland, Debski will write a report explaining "what works in the UK and must be imported into Poland".

He intends to propose less onerous laws for businesses in order to prevent Poles setting them up abroad and is considering creating some posts for Polish lawmakers to represent their compatriots living abroad.

The MP is also exploring the possibility a setting up a think-tank made up of Poles living in London. 

"I'm sure they have good ideas," he smiled, while showing off a list of names on his mobile phone.

"I already have twelve contacts here. That's a good start."

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