Thursday

29th Jun 2017

Polish border guards push back potential asylum seekers

  • Polish border guards on the platform at Terespol railway station. The station is the entry point for foreigners arriving in Poland from Belarus. (Photo: UNHCR/R. Kostrzynski)

Polish border guards are turning back rising numbers of potential asylum seekers.

Some 42,300 people - many of whom having legitimate reasons to seek international protection - were sent back in the first half of 2016, which is more than twice the number of 2015.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The Association for Legal Intervention (SIP), a Polish non profit providing legal advice to vulnerable people, monitored the situation at three border crossings from January to April this year.

”The monitoring confirmed what foreigners have been signalling to NGOs for years. The border patrol obstructs on a massive scale access to the refugee procedure,” SIP wrote in a report published on Wednesday (10 August).

The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights asked the Warsaw based fundamental rights officer of EU border agency Frontex, the EU ombudsman, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) and UNHCR to intervene.

Refugees from Russia and Tajikistan

The breaches were found to be concentrated to a border crossing with Belarus, which has seen a spike in crossings over the last year.

Border guards at Warsaw airport and the Medyka border crossing with Ukraine, which the non profit also monitored, were found to generally follow the law.

The number of people trying to reach Poland through Belarus has soared in the last year.

The train linking Brest and Terespol, the border towns located at each side of river Bug, has seen the number of carriages double from four to eight.

Also the number of people that requested asylum in Terespol has more than doubled year-over-year, from 2,000 requests in the first half of 2015 to 4,000 for the same period this year.

Of those trying to cross the border, 17,000 could be considered refugees. They are mainly Chechens, fed up with violence and lawlessness in their country. But there has also been a notable increase in the number of Tajiks, according to the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (HFRF).

”Dozens of people are camping in Belarus as they aren’t allowed into Poland, despite clear claims that they are facing persecution in Tajikistan,” the foundation’s Marta Szczepanik told this website.

The situation in Tajikistan deteriorated in 2015, as the main opposition party was outlawed. HFHR says opposition activists and their families are threatened and even imprisoned and tortured.

”These people aren't safe in Belarus either,” Szczepanik continued. ”There have been cases when Belarusian authorities were pressured to return Tajiks. The border guards have no authority to evaluate whether these people have asylum grounds or not - they should let them in and let the appropriate agency in Poland decide. Instead, we hear from foreigners that Polish border guards are throwing their passports in their face and tell them to ask Lukashenka for asylum, because they won’t be let into Poland.”

HFRF and SIP claim that even people with clearly formulated requests, invoking the experience of persecution in the country of origin, are refused the right to lodge an application and enter Poland. Some have tried to cross the border up 40 to 50 times, citing asylum reasons.

The fact that a person goes without a passport or entry visa doesn’t mean he or she lacks the right to have their claims examined. This is a breach of both international and Polish law.

”The vast majority of refusals were based on the lack of a valid visa or residence permit. NGO workers notice that the situation over the last year has gradually got worse - more and more people, more and more often, are refused to apply for international protection,” SIP wrote in its report.

According to the Polish border patrol, 4,300 Tajiks have been returned so far this year - up from 668 last year. The total number of foreigners refused entry amounts to 42,300 - up from 17,700 last year.

Duly trained officers

When asked to comment on NGO allegations, the Polish border guard said that its officers have received due training in human rights.

"Guards are instructed to take an individual approach to foreigners and to minimise the risk of infringement of the principle of non-refoulement," border guard spokesperson Agnieszka Golias told EUobserver in a written statement.

Non-refoulement is an international principle accepted by most countries, including all EU members. It is stating that people shouldn't be forced to return to countries where their life, physical integrity or liberty would be threatened. The principle also says countries cannot refuse entry to such people at their borders.

Golias added that the border guards are working in accordance to the Schengen borders code.

"Thus, if a foreigner does not meet certain conditions in the law of entry and the nature of his entry has a different purpose than seeking protection, the consequence is to refuse entry to the territory of Poland," she continued.

Poland 'changing for the worse' for Muslims and refugees

Chechen refugees have been coming to Poland for decades. Tatar Muslims have lived there for centuries. But with the new government trying to whip up fear of foreigners, "things are changing for the worse”.

Lack of eligible candidates dogs EU relocation scheme

Member states could fail to meet their refugee quotas even if they wanted to, as strict eligibility rules mean there are few candidates left in Greece and Italy. Sweden is already wondering if it will meet its pledge.

Security and defence to top EU summit

Pressure is mounting for social media platforms to remove any online content deemed to incite terrorism. Draft conclusions, seen by EUobserver, have made the issue a top priority in leaders' talks next week.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. World VisionEU, Young Leaders and Civil Society Join Forces to End Violence Against Girls
  2. EU2017EEGet the Latest News from the 2017 Estonian EU Council Presidency @EU2017EE
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Talks Should Insist on Ending Reprisals Against Critical Voices
  4. European Free AllianceEFA Is Looking for a New Intern
  5. Malta EU 2017Conservation of Atlantic Tunas: International Measures Become EU Law
  6. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceCan Statin Therapy Interfere With a Physically Active Lifestyle?
  7. EPSUOn Public Services Day, Stop Austerity! Workers Need a Pay Rise!
  8. EGBAOnline Gambling: The EU Court Rejects Closed Licensing Regimes In Member States
  9. World VisionFaces of Today, Leaders of Tomorrow: Join the Debate on Violence Against Girls - 29 June
  10. ECR GroupThe EU Must Better Protect Industry from Unfair Competition
  11. Malta EU 2017Better Protection for Workers From Cancer-Causing Substances
  12. EPSUAfter 9 Years of Austerity Europe's Public Sector Workers Deserve a Pay Rise!

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFEU Trust Fund Contribution to UNICEF's Syria Crisis Response Reaches Nearly €200 Million
  2. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceCan an Ideal Body Weight Lead to Premature Death?
  3. Malta EU 2017End of Roaming Charges: What Does It Entail?
  4. World VisionWorld Refugee Day, a Dark Reminder of the Reality of Children on the Move
  5. Dialogue PlatformMuslims Have Unique Responsibility to Fight Terror: Opinon From Fethullah Gülen
  6. EUSEW17Check out This Useful Infographic on How to Stay Sustainable and Energy Efficient.
  7. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament Criticises the Juncker Plan's Implementation
  8. UNICEF1 in 5 Children in Rich Countries Lives in Relative Income Poverty, 1 in 8 Faces Food Insecurity
  9. International Partnership for Human Rights26 NGOs Call on Interpol Not to Intervene Versus Azerbaijani Human Rights Defenders
  10. Malta EU 2017Significant Boost in Financing for SMEs and Entrepreneurs Under New Agreement
  11. World VisionYoung People Rise up as EU Signs Consensus for Development at EU Development Days