When The Filipino Immigrant Trail Arrives In Poland

Like generations before who'd set off for North America, Asia and Western Europe, emigrants from the Philippines have arrived over the past decade in a growing Poland to find work.

Warsaw, new land of promise for Filipino immigrants?
Warsaw, new land of promise for Filipino immigrants?
Iwona Glowacka

WARSAW — Riza, 45, is dressed elegantly in a knee-length black fur coat and a pair of leather trousers. She wears a copper shade of lipstick and neatly pinned hair. “Back in the Philippines we are heroes, women of success,” she says. “Children are grateful for what we do for them.”

I meet Riza in front of the Warsaw Immaculate Conception Chapel. The Sunday mass has just ended, and she is among the 20 women gathered around Sister Yolanda, who like them is a Filipina.

“I nurse this girls club,” says the nun, who has lived in Warsaw for the last three years and helps bind together this group of women from the Philippines.

After decades of similar emigration to the U.S., Asia and Western Europe, Filipino immigration to Poland started 12 years ago, when one of the Polish banks recruited accountants and IT specialists from the islands country. As time passed by, some of them sent their children to the American School of Warsaw and settled down. Soon after, chauffeurs, cooks and cleaning personnel for a few diplomatic sites in Warsaw joined the community. Today, it counts about 500 people, including the Filipino wives of Polish citizens, seasonal workers, nannies and household helpers.

At just 34 years old, Rona has an impressive work history. She could withstand Hong Kong for only two weeks. “Bad employers,” she explains. In Dubai, she tended and gave injections to an elderly lady for two years. She did not have the right to a day off or to a mobile phone, and she was forbidden to leave the house alone. For five years in Cyprus she spent a fortune on phone calls to her son. And now in Warsaw, her three-year contract is coming to an end.

In fact, Rona has never worked in her home country of the Philippines. She studied teaching but ultimately failed the final exams.

“If you are over 30 and you do not have a university degree, you will not find any job in the Philippines,” Riza explains.

She used to work in a restaurant, but the family budget became tight when her children grew older and went to school. In search of a better income, she left for Vietnam where she worked as a nanny for a French family. Before going back to France, the family recommended Riza to a friend in Poland. “If you decide to work abroad, you cannot be picky about the country,” Riza says.

For Imee, 43, moving to Poland was a conscious decision. “Maybe it sounds stupid, but I really wanted to be in the homeland of Pope John Paul II,” she says. “I had my job interview on Sunday and I was told to start on Monday.”

“I said during the first interview that I do not know how to cook because back home it was my husband’s responsibility,” recalls Riza. “Madame replied, ’I do know, so it is not a problem.’ ”

Riza’s many tasks include cleaning the kitchen, the dining room, the living room, the TV room, the playroom, four bedrooms, the cloakroom and three bathrooms. She also walks the dog and takes care of a cat, a rabbit and two hamsters. Four older children go to school by taxi, so she walks only the youngest child to preschool. “I wash and iron for eight people,” she says.

While fulfilling her duties, Riza teaches the children English, the language of instruction in the Philippines.

According to Imee, Filipino domestic workers have earned a good reputation thanks to their humility. “I don’t know any girl who would complain to her employers. Whatever happens, we will nod with a smile,” she says.

Enviable benefits

A standard contract for a Filipino domestic worker guarantees Sundays and holidays off. The monthly salary is about $500 after tax, and the employer provides food, a room and pays social security premiums.

While earning one-fifth better then her compatriots elsewhere, Riza also brags also about a month of paid leave every year and a ticket both ways to the Philippines.

Imee too feels lucky. She works for a family with three children, but she does not have as much work as some of her peers. “Five days a week, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. a Polish woman takes care of the house. I share all my duties with her. God has really blessed me.”

Nevertheless, she would not like to be a domestic worker for her entire life. “I give myself three to five years in this profession,” she says. “Now I am looking for a job in a preschool because I already know how to deal with children. We discipline them differently in the Philippines. When I first came here, I was afraid that if I shout to a child, he or she would shout back.”

“I tell my children, "You have to finish your studies so that in the future you do not have to work abroad,’ ” says Riza. Two of her four daughters are married, and one is a teacher in Singapore. “My youngest child is still in high school. It means for me eight more years as a maid.”

When her daughter graduates, Riza will be 54.

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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