The Plight Of Liberians
In Poland
By Martin Ray Toe
Warsaw, Poland

There is a considerable number of Liberians here in Eastern Europe, the so-called former communist block. They include medical doctors, linguists, teachers among others who have studied in various higher institutions of learning here. The sad thing is, we are stranded. Many of us have no passports, amidst the fast growing economies of Eastern Europe, we are virtually pushed to the margins here. The impact? insecurity, with no sense of belonging.

By 1988, there were about a dozen or so Liberians who were studying in various higher institutions of learning. Many of us came here through the Liberian Government and a few through Liberian National Student Union (LINSU). When the war broke out, a bulk of Liberians abandoned their studies and sought asylum in various Western European countries. We who are here have persevered and completed our respective studies, amidst the traumatizing impact of the war. We are the ones stranded here, longing to go home.

The problem is, we are illegal aliens - having neither passports nor staying visas. We can't get staying visas because we've got no passports. All pages of the old Liberian Passports we came here with have been used up. Thus, despite our qualifications, we aren't allowed to work. Even those of us who wisely thought we could seek an asylum from the Polish Government have been turned away because of the influx of fellow Africans who, masquerading as Liberians, sought asylum here during the heat of the war. The Polish people contend that they simply can't distinguish fake Liberians from genuine Liberians. Apart from that, the war is over.

That appears to be a pretext. The fact is, xenophobia has been the order of the new day here. Poles are deliberately doing everything to rid their new society of foreigners - especially those of us from the so-called third world. To this end, they've been passing new immigration laws. The reasons given for denying foreigners legal status are sometimes uninformed.

"My application has been rejected", said Dangbay Zuu, the oldest Liberian here who completed his studies in International Relations seven years ago, "because someone wrote in my file that the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA), the organization I affiliated with when I was at home, is a terrorist organization." Zuu, who has studied and lived here for the past fifteen years, applied for an asylum over two years ago. He can be said to know almost every bureaucrat in the Polish Internal Affairs Ministry, but he's yet to be granted the status. Like every single Liberian here, Zuu is catching real hell.

So, we are virtually pushed to the margins of the society here. Our predicament is both material and psychological. The harsh fact is, some of us are literally homeless, squatting here and there. After going through all these years of mental stress and ordeals in order to acquire education, we are made idle here in a foreign land. Indeed, our situation is one of insecurity and despair.

What Can Be Done?
The key to our plight, therefore, is passport. We first and foremost need passports. That will sort out the identity crisis and give us a sense of belonging. So far, all attempts to get new passports through friends and relatives at home has proven futile. Thus, an official appeal to the Liberian Government seems to be the best alternative. Secondly, most of us would like to go home as soon as possible. Given our deplorable material situation here, none of us can afford a plane ticket to Africa. We would be very grateful if we could be provided air tickets to go home.

Finally, a few of us are doing postgraduate studies. Until recently, Polish universities allowed foreign graduates to pursue such studies provided they had the required grades and were able to maintain themselves (meaning, feeding and paying for one's accommodation). In so doing, some of us have been working as freelance teachers of English (off course, illegally). But for now, outright discrimination has set in as Americans, English, Canadians, and Australians among others flood the lucrative English-teaching job market here. Referred to as "native speakers", Poles prefer them (irrespective of their low levels of education) to Africans. This situation has an adverse impact of the studies of our colleagues. Can the Liberian Government help these Liberians finish their studies? We would appreciate that!

Let me elaborate on the passport issue by bringing to your attention a specific case involving a Liberian from the United States who visited Poland last year. The importance of the case lies in the unfortunate fact that a Liberian exploited our situation for reason I am yet to understand.

In Spring of last year, the Nigerian Embassy in Warsaw called a colleague of ours, asking him to come and meet a Liberian who was at the embassy looking for Liberians in Poland. The Liberian happened to be Sam Pittee-Polkah Toe. Toe (accompanied by a Polish-American) came to Poland, purportedly to establish an "International African Institute", the kind he claimed to have founded in New York. During his stay, he claimed to have had meetings officials of the Polish government. His other aims? Fairly ambitious! They include soliciting fifty scholarships for Liberians, launching an African art gallery and a Newsmagazine among other business plans.

Naturally, we as a community were proud of Mr Toe - Liberian national coming all the way to invest in Poland. We swarmed around him wherever he went, giving a deserving Liberian treatment. It was during one of those cheerful moments together that we acquainted him with our situation. He said the best he could do for us was to have our passports renewed, and that he would be responsible for the cost. He said he had been helping hundreds of other Liberians with similar problems in the United States. He even made Zuu to speak on the phone with one Dunbar who sounded as an official of the Liberian Embassy in Washington D.C. Dunbar confirmed Toe's claims and promised to issue us passports.

We gave our passports to Dr. Toe. He promised to send them to us in a month's time. After his departure, we waited for three months. He never contacted us. So Zuu sent him a fax through a friend to inquire about the documents that we desperately needed. Instead of replying Zuu, Toe angrily sent Zuu's friend a fax accusing us of being ungrateful. Toe has been silent. It's over a year now, and we are still awaiting our passports.

Finally, I regret to announce the death of one of our colleagues here. Ebenezer Kruzer, who was born in Garaway, Grand Kru county . He was 36. The former Liberian student was earlier wanted by the police in a provincial town of Poznan for interrogation about circumstances surrounding the disappearance and subsequent murder of his former Polish girlfriend. Kruzer, who claimed he had been tortured by the police, was on the run when he was arrested by the police. His throat was slit with knife. The police said he committed suicide. He was taken to a University hospital in Warsaw where he remained unconscious until May 1998. The late Kruzer was sent here by the Liberian Government in 1986 to study international law. He completed his studies four years ago, but could not go home because of the war. It is now reported in the Polish press that the police, in spite of scientific tests, is yet to establish whether the Liberian killed his former girlfriend; they simply do not have any clues. The case is now a dead case, but it underlines the rigor of our predicament in this country.