How to support foreigners in a pandemic? Lessons from Lublin
Lublin becomes the first Polish city to introduce procedures for obtaining PESEL and registering address for foreigners
- March 27, 2020 10:30
Lublin developed procedures to obtain a social security number by foreigners that are adapted to the current epidemiological situation. Krzysztof Stanowski, Director of the Centre for International Cooperation about support for foreigners in Lublin amidst pandemic.
Foreigners are one of the groups that, by far, requires particular support from local authorities during the Covid-19 pandemic. In Lublin, which is increasingly regaining its multicultural character, foreign students and migrants are an important part of the local community.
Supporting foreigners in Lublin
Actions to support foreign residents were initiated in Lublin over 10 years ago when Lublin joined the Council of Europe's Intercultural Cities Programme. They are grouped into four areas:
- operations of Social Participation Office partnered with NGOs and the Integration Support Group created in 2012;
- a long-term foreign students support programme ‘Study in Lublin’ (over 7300 offshore students in 2019/2020 academic year);
- Information Desk for Foreigners that operates in one of the Residents’ Affairs Offices since 2014 (customers are serviced in Polish, English, Ukrainian, German and Russian if need be). Furthermore, Maria Curie-Skłodowska University students (Translation Department), help Lublin Municipality staff to communicate with residents in ‘rare’ languages, under ‘Communication Pier’ project;
- Centre for International Cooperation, lastly, which supports and implements international projects and cooperates with partner and friend cities.
The COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak has set new tasks for us.
Lublin reacts to coronavirus
First and foremost, we inform. We reach out to foreigners, on the English and Ukrainian language website lublin.eu as well as on social media platforms, and keep them informed about the dynamically changing situation.
We also inform about sanitary recommendations, and visas or residency permits that are about to expire, and other practical information related to restrictions introduced in Poland in order to prevent coronavirus from spreading. We cooperate closely with universities on the issue of dormitories being available to foreign students who for many reasons, in many cases purely logistical, were forced to stay in Lublin instead of returning home after classes at the universities were suspended.
We communicate via diverse channels. Foreigners themselves spread information posted on ‘Lublin Coronavirus Update’ within many other foreigners' groups on social media. We also try to use, whenever possible, employees’ private contacts (Lublin City Office has employed foreigners for many years), we also cooperate with the MFA and consulates.
Lublin's offices, like many other similar venues, ceased direct customer service, in the vast majority of cases. Many matters can be done online, authorised by an electronic signature.
First Polish city to introduce procedures for obtaining PESEL number
It was absolutely critical from a foreigner’s point of view to be able to obtain a social security number (PESEL) in these new circumstances. Failure to do so makes it virtually impossible to obtain sick leave, purchase medication in a pharmacy or use any other service provided either by the state or a local government.
Lublin was the first city in Poland to launch procedures adapted to the current epidemiological conditions just within two days (sic!). Foreigners submit applications in specially secured boxes. The applications are being handled with compliance to all necessary safety procedures. Decisions are sent by post.
Sharing the experience with others
Thanks to Lublin City Office employees and volunteers, new procedures’ descriptions are available in Polish, English, Ukrainian, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, Vietnamese, Bulgarian and Russian. Once the procedures were developed in Lublin, we immediately shared them with other Polish municipalities, which obviously are facing the same problems.
Also, non-governmental organizations and ordinary citizens of Lublin are eager to help foreigners. The city's residents launched a support and direct assistance group for migrants from Ukraine on Facebook: ‘Visible Hand’, part of Visible Hand – international section (Poland).
At the same time we do our best to provide foreigners with current and verified information. We try to be a reliable source of information in these challenging times when the amount of fake news and misleading information shared via social media has become alarming. This is why the Municipality has issued messages and statements to support and offer gentle care and help to foreigners living in Lublin and will continue to do so in the coming days.
Mayor of Lublin, Krzysztof Żuk, says that Lublin has always had rich traditions of multiculturalism and openness. Therefore, caring for our guests and residents is vital to Lublin’s identity. I strongly believe that our frequently visited Old Town will soon be filled with the multilingual bustle of Lublin's residents, students and tourists alike.
Information on the current procedures related to the service of foreigners in registration matters can be downloaded here (in PDF).
Krzysztof Stanowski, Director of International Cooperation Center at Lublin City Office. Deputy Minister of Education and Foreign Affairs (2007-2012). Co-founder and a leader of non-governmental organizations. President of the Education for Democracy Foundation and of Solidarity Fund PL. Co-founder of the Civic Committee for Solidarity with Ukraine. During the communist era, he was a member of the regional board of the underground Solidarność movement and a political prisoner.
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