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Background Information | Poland |

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Background Information

Stefan Alscher

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The history of migration in Poland is characterised largely by emigration. Until the end of the 20th century, emigration took place both in large waves and in continual yearly movements.

The end of the Second World War and the subsequent shifting of Poland's borders westwards resulted in the mass displacement and forced resettlement of approximately eight million people of Polish, Ukrainian, Belarusian and German origin. Another large wave of migration occurred after the Second World War when about 300 000 Jews of Polish origin returned to Poland. However, in the years that followed about 220 000 of these moved on to Palestine/Israel, Western Europe and overseas.

Since the 1950s, the majority of people emigrating from Poland to the Federal Republic of Germany have been Aussiedler (ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet states). Another large wave began in 1968, when up to 25 000 Polish Jews left the country. Polish citizens were allowed to travel relatively freely until the late 1970s, but in 1981 most western countries imposed visa restrictions. As a result of these restrictions primarily people from ethnic minority groups continued to migrate on the basis of agreements and international treaties.

Background InformationPoland

Capital: Warsaw
Official language: Polish
Area: 312 685 km2 (for comparison, Germany: 357 027 km2)
Population (2006): 38 157 055 (Eurostat)
Population density: 122 inhabitants per km2
Population growth (2005): 0,0 % (World Bank)
Labour force participation rate (2006): 63,4 % (OECD)
Foreign population as a percentage of the total (2005):
1.8 % (703 000 persons) (UN Population Division)
Percentage of foreign employees among gainfully employed (2003): 0.15 % (ILO)
Unemployment rate: 14.0 % (2006); 18.0 % (2005); 19.3 % (2004) (OECD)
Religions (2001): 90 % Roman Catholic, 1.3 % Polish Orthodox, 0.3 % Protestant, 0.3 % Jehovah´s Witnesses, 0.1 % Old Catholic, Muslim and Jewish minorities, 8 % Other/No religion

During the suppression of the Solidarność movement and the imposition of martial law at the beginning of the 1980s another 250 000 Polish citizens emigrated.

Since the fall of Communism in 1989, the nature of migration to and from Poland has been in flux. As a result of its negative migration balance (see below), Poland is still regarded mainly as a country of emigration. Because of its geographic location between Eastern and Western Europe, however, it increasingly serves as a transit country for migrants. There are also numerous immigrants from Vietnam and Armenia living in the country. In addition to this, Poland seems to be developing into a destination country, primarily for migrants from neighbouring countries on its eastern border (Ukraine, Belarus, Russia), and from other parts of the former Soviet Union. This is predominantly due to the fact that, compared with other Central and Eastern European countries, Poland has been experiencing a period of comparatively rapid economic growth since the 1990s, first as a country associated with the European Union (EU), then as a candidate for accession, and now as a new EU member state.



  1. The "Solidarność Movement" (Solidarity Movement) was the union founded by Lech Wałęsa in 1980 in Gdansk which triggered the democratisation process in Poland.

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Stefan Alscher is employed at the Center for Migration, Citizenship and Development at the University of Bielefeld. He has studied graduate level social sciences in Göttingen, Xalapa (Mexico) and Berlin. Since 1998, he has been a member of the editorial staff of the newsletter "Migration und Bevölkerung".