Access to the territory and push backs

Poland

Author

Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (HFHR)

In 2012-2015 cases were reported where persons were denied access to the territory at the border crossing checkpoint in Terespol (at the border with Belarus), which is the main entry point in Poland for asylum seekers. HFHR made numerous inquiries in individual cases asking for clarification of these situations and brought up the issue at ministerial level.1 In some cases asylum seekers were refused entry, in others they were detained on the basis of abusing the asylum procedure (apparent even in the case of first-time applicants). The asylum seekers, mostly of Georgian nationality, interviewed in the detention centre in Bialystok in October 2012 by the HFHR representatives claimed they had asked for asylum on the first instance, but managed to enter the territory only after several attempts and days later and were subsequently detained. The SG states that Third Country Nationals (TCNs) do not ask for asylum while trying to cross the border without a visa or other permit and give other reasons which do not entitle them to enter Poland (financial problems in the country of origin, family members in other Member States).2 They also claim that Poland is a transit country.

The issue was discussed at several meetings with the SG representatives in 2013 and 2014. Still, HFHR and another NGO (Legal Intervention Association, LIA) receive phone calls from asylum seekers trying to cross the border in Terespol. On 29 October 2013 five representatives of the HFHR and LIA went to Terespol with the purpose of meeting with the SG and monitoring the border crossing checkpoint. During their visit, the lawyers were shown the rooms and facilities for TCNs (waiting areas, kitchen, toilet, room for mothers and their children). They talked to two asylum-seeking families (one from Chechnya, one from Georgia), waiting for all the necessary procedural steps (fingerprinting, short interview) to be taken. The family of Chechen origin entered Poland for the first time, but the Georgian family claimed they had tried to enter Poland nine times before they succeeded and managed to lodge an asylum application. According to their statement, they were not given the decision on refusal of entry, but signed a document written in Polish.

According to the SG in Terespol, there are no cases of refusal of entry of foreigners who want to apply for asylum. Every time there is a TCN who does not fulfil the conditions to enter Poland, the SG issues a decision on refusal of entry, which can be appealed. There were no cases of appeal in practice. The SG hand over to the refused entrant the decision issued on the form with the instruction on appeal (in Polish) and the list of NGOs which are available in Russian. The SG officer places a decision on refusal of entry in the registry with a detailed memo on what were the TCNs reasons for entry. The SG claims it is mostly work or visiting family members and that TCNs do not express any fear for their life or health.

HHFR reports that in 2014 Syrian and Iraqi applicants at Terespol were also exposed to the same treatment. Some of them had lived in Belarus or Russia for some time as students. At a HHFR meeting in 2014 with the SG Headquarters it was reconfirmed that if it is asylum they apply for, their claims are registered and no further inquiries as to the reasons for entry are made. However HFHR and UNHCR still receive phone calls from the border and TCNs saying they want to apply for asylum but are refused entry at the border. HFHR has intervened in the past at the border crossing point and after some of these interventions TCNs were allowed entry in as asylum seekers. The problem is also widely described in the HFHR report published in December 2014.3

In the first half of 2015, 2,027 persons applied for asylum at the Terespol border crossing point. The highest number of asylum seekers per day was 41 (comparing to approximately 250 in 2013). 3,130 persons were refused entry. HFHR lawyers confirm that they keep receiving information about the described problem from asylum seekers.4 The Border Guards Headquarters reiterates that access to the procedure is monitored by UNHCR and the NGO indicated by UNHCR, which is Halina Niec Legal Aid Centre (Centrum Pomocy Prawnej im. Haliny Nieć).5

In 2016 the situation became even more serious. Reports say that, in spite of repeated, clearly formulated requests, invoking the experience of persecution in the country of origin, asylum seekers are refused the right to lodge an application and enter Poland.6

On 11 August 2016, representatives of the Polish Ombudsman conducted an unannounced inspection of the railway border crossing in Terespol in response to the information that a group of around 500 foreigners was attempting to enter the territory of Poland for some time in order to apply for protection. On that day 436 foreigners tried to cross the border in Terespol, out of which 223 were children. None of them had visas or any other permit allowing them to enter Poland. The majority of 406 foreigners were refused the right of entry into Poland by the Border Guard who issued respective administrative decisions in that regard. Only 7 applications for international protection were accepted (covering 31 persons). The Ombudsman’s representatives participated in interviews with 79 families trying to cross the border on that day. The monitoring team admitted that in 62 cases, individuals who underwent preliminary questioning did not declare the intention to apply for international protection in Poland, nor provided information which could suggest that they came to Poland with such an intention. As the reason for their arrival they most commonly mentioned the willingness to improve living conditions, find employment or ensure better education and prospects for the future for their children. However, the representatives stated that 5 families explicitly declared their intention to apply for international protection and only one of them was admitted. During 12 other interviews foreigners were describing situations or events which could indicate a coercive nature of their migration but again only in one case the foreigners were admitted. The representatives also noticed that the conditions of this preliminary questioning were difficult - three out of the four stands are situated at such a short distance from each other that conducted interviews may be easily overheard by third parties (e.g. other foreigners).7

NGOs also conducted border monitoring in 2016 – HFHR published a report “A road to Nowhere” about the situation in Terespol8 and the LIA monitored access to procedure at the border crossing point in Terespol, Medyka and Warsaw airport Okecie.9 HFHR states that that all their respondents expressed the will to apply for protection and their personal stories correspond to the COI reports from the respective countries. LIA draws attention to the internal guidance of the Border Guard on how to conduct an assessment whether a given person should be considered international protection seeker, which is not envisaged in the law. Both organisation claim that the Border Guards ignore the requests of the foreigners who ask for international protection. HFHR underlines, that Border Guard officers often act purposively to humiliate foreign nationals. Sometimes the officers use offensive and derogatory comparisons while referring to foreign nationals (e.g. they compare foreign nationals to dogs), ridicule their problems or even demonstratively tear documents. NGOs representatives, contrary to the Ombudsman representatives, were refused a possibility to participate in questionings, even as formal representatives of the party.

The Ministry of the Interior answered to the interpellation of one of the MPs about the situation in Terespol. In their opinion, the situation is not critical, but is subject to monitoring because of the potential threat to the security of state and public order and because of the necessity to observe the principle of non-refoulement.10

 

  • 1. This issue was also included in HFHR's intervention letter submitted to the Head of the Office for Foreigners, the Border Guard Commander in Chief and the Ministry of Interior on 18 January 2013 (not published) and was mentioned in HFHR's comments to the project of the new Law on foreigners from November 2012, available (in Polish), available at: http://bit.ly/1MG2ae7.
  • 2. Consultation meeting with the Border Guard and NGO representatives held on 26-27 February 2013 in Lublin.
  • 3. K. Rusiłowicz, Dostęp do procedury uchodźczej (Access to an asylum procedure), in Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, W poszukiwaniu ochrony. Wybrane problemy dotyczące realizacji praw cudzoziemców ubiegających się o nadanie statusu uchodźcy i objętych ochroną międzynarodową w latach 2012-2014. Obserwacje Programu Pomocy Prawnej dla Uchodźców i Migrantów Helsińskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka (In search of protection.Selected problems concerning the enforcement of rights of foreigners who apply for refugee statusand are under international protectionin the years 2012-2014. Observations ofthe Legal Assistance forRefugees and Migrants Programme of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights), 2014, available in Polish at: http://bit.ly/1eiVxDF, 16.
  • 4. E-mail information to HFHR from 3 September 2015.
  • 5. Letter from the Border Guard Headquarters to HFHR from 18 August no MAIL KG-OI-614/III/15 and from 24 August 2015 no FAX-KG-CU-5944/IP/15.
  • 6. HFHR letter of 22 July 2016, available at: http://bit.ly/2mrOzRp.
  • 7. Ombudsman, Inspection of the railway border crossing in Terespol, 21 September 2016, available at: http://bit.ly/2meul1l.
  • 8. HFHR, A road to nowhere, 2016, The account of a monitoring visit at the Brest-Terespol border crossing between Poland and Belarus, available at: http://bit.ly/2l7nt2x.
  • 9. Legal Intervention Association (Stowarzyszenie Interwencji Prawnej), At the border. Report on monitoring of access to the procedure for granting international protection at border crossings in Terespol, Medyka, and Warszawa-Okęcie Airport, available at: http://bit.ly/2lPBrVE.
  • 10. Ministry of Internal Affairs and Administration, available at http://bit.ly/2lR7wQL.

About AIDA

The Asylum Information Database (AIDA) is a database managed by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), containing information on asylum procedures, reception conditions, detenti