Burngreave has always provided a safe haven for people migrating or fleeing from other countries. One of Burngreave’s most recently arrived communities is the Slovaks from Eastern Europe, travelling here for work now that Slovakia is part of the European Union. As with other communities before, their story is one of hopes fulfilled and difficulties still to overcome.
One of the Messenger’s experienced volunteers, Stuart Crosthwaite, went to speak to local Slovaks with help from interpreter Hannah Skrinar of SCAIS.
They were welcomed into the home of Zdenek and his family (pictured above), who had been in Burngreave for four months. He was made redundant immediately after finishing three years of study and work experience in Slovakia and was left claiming benefit, which isn’t enough to live on.
“I have a better life here because I have work; I think my children are better off here too. I’d like my children to stay here forever.With a good education they might get good jobs and make a good life for themselves.”
“Mam tu lepsi zivot, lebo mam robotu. Ja si myslim, ze sa tu maju lepsie aj moje deti. Ja by som chcel, aby tu ostali moje deti.”
Jan, a relative of Zdenek, spoke about his concerns for their children:
“They are afraid of going to school, they feel threatened.There needs to be an adult in every school who knows the situation. Our children get beaten up every other day. I was a teaching assistant in Slovakia, I don’t know if it will be possible to do that here too.”
“Nase deti sa boja chodit do skoly. Citia sa vyhrazani. Mali by mat v kazdej skole dospeleho cloveka, ktory vie o ich situacii.”
Jan was a miner in Slovakia, working 1,200 metres underground to extract iron and copper. The mines were closed in 1992, when cheaper imports became available from Russia.
“I’m glad to be in Sheffield, I’d like to stay here. But people should improve the way they help out people who don’t understand.”
Irena has been in Burngreave since last November. So far she has been happy here, but she has experienced difficulties in other parts of Sheffield.
“I’d like to tell English people to leave us alone and not hurt us.We’re people too. I was given a council house at the start, but I had to refuse it because I was too scared to live there. I had to get rented accommodation.When police were called the people scattered, but once the police had gone they came back and threw stones through the window.This was in Gleadless.”
“There are all kinds of nationalities here, but as far as I’m concerned, we should just shake hands and be polite to each other and not notice if your skin is dark, yellow, black or white.”
But Irena was glad her husband had work in a chicken factory, which was the reason they were staying here.
“In Slovakia when the communists were in power we had a very good life – you could live off 20–100 crowns per week. When ‘democracy’ came the government started taking benefits away – they only gave us half.”
“We came here for work, not for benefits or charity from anybody, or to complain about anything.”
Irena is scared to go out at night, for fear of being attacked, but it’s not just this that prevents her from enjoying a night out.
“There’s not really time to have fun. Sometimes the men do twelve-hour shifts. Sometimes they work all weekend and women are working hard at home; it’s work, sleep, work, most of the time.”
“Nemame cas na zabavu. Niekedy muzi robia 12-hodinove smeny. Niekedy robia cely vikend, zatial co zeny tvrdo pracuju doma.”
Milan had just woken after a twelve-hour shift in a printing factory when we spoke to him. Milan has been in Sheffield for two years, since his work at a train station in Slovakia ended when the company he worked for closed down.
“My mum and dad are at home in Slovakia. It’s difficult – I’ve not seen them for two years. It’s very difficult to come here; it’s very hard at first. Every person has to suffer that. If an English person didn’t have work they’d be in the same situation as me, having to move for work.”
“There are many people here from many countries, there is racism here, but when you see someone you don’t know, and you’re from one country and he’s from another, you don’t know what he’s like and he doesn’t know what you’re like, but when you get to know each other, at work or something, there’s no racism.The way a child is raised is how the adults become.”