Access to detention facilities



Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights

The law allows for lawyers, NGOs or UNHCR to have access to detention centres.1 Detained asylum seekers are entitled to maintain contact with UNHCR and organisations dealing with asylum issues or granting legal assistance (directly and by means of correspondence and telephone calls). Direct contact with UNHCR and organisations can be limited or restricted completely by the head of the detention centre if it is necessary to ensure safety and public order or to observe the rules of stay in the detention centre. The decision of the head of the centre is final.2 The Head of the Office for Foreigners and UNHCR should be informed about it.3 This provision is not used in practice. NGOs provide legal assistance, but unfortunately not on a regular basis. In 2016 all NGOs had to diminish their assistance (also legal) in the detention centres, because of lack of financial means as a result of delay in the implementation of AMIF, announcement of call for proposals results cofinanced by AMIF.

As a general rule, NGOs have to ask for the consent of a manager of the detention centre to meet with a specific asylum seeker. Lawyers, family members and friends, or NGOs can meet with a detainee during visiting hours. There are no limitations concerning the frequency of such visits. UNHCR Poland notes that they are not limited in accessing detention centres. The media and politicians have access to detention centres under general rules; they have to ask for the consent of the SG unit managing the detention centre.

In practice, NGOs who want to meet with more than one or with unspecified asylum seekers, monitor conditions in a detention centre etc. must ask the SG Commander in Chief in writing for permission to visit a detention centre. Since March 2013 till end of 2016 such consent is given by the Commander of the Regional Unit of the SG.4 In 2017 rules changed, and permission is authorised by Border Guards Headquarter. Nevertheless visits are generally not limited to visiting hours. Non-governmental organisations generally do not face problems in accessing the centres.

Visits from relatives, friends or religious representatives are authorised. Anyone visit should not last more than 90 minutes, but it can be prolonged in justified cases by the manager of the centre. Two adults have a right to take part in the meeting. The number of children is not limited.5 Non-scheduled visitors as a rule do not have a possibility to meet with the asylum applicant (but the manager of the detention centre can make exceptions from the above mentioned rules, especially when it is needed to maintain family ties and care over a children).6

Detainees are able to maintain regular contact with people outside the centre. There is no limitation in using cell phones (without audio- and video recording system) or public phones. The SG’s have several hundreds of substitute cell phones without a camera which they provide to foreigners in case they only have smartphones. The cell phones are handed over for the whole day for free. The foreigners can also use public phones, sufficient privacy is provided. In both cases detainees themselves pay for the calls. There is a possibility to order a phone card.The SG officers go and do shopping for detainees usually twice a week. If the asylum applicant does not have money to buy a telephone card, there is a possibility of using the SG’s equipment in justifiable cases.

The Law on Foreigners which came into force on 1 May 2014 introduced a legal possibility to impose sanction on a detainee who does not obey the rules in the detention centre.

There are two possibilities:

  • Banning participation in sport and leisure activities (except for using the library) or;

  • Banning the purchase of food and cigarettes from outside the centre.

When deciding upon the application of either of these two sanctions, the SG Regional Commander takes into account the general behaviour of the detainee, the level of disobedience, cultural background, etc. Before adopting the law, such punishments were applied in practice without any legal basis. In 2015 and in 2016, such punishment was used 26 times.7

  • 1. Article 415(1)(2), (3), (19) Law on Foreigners and Article 89a(1)(2) Law on Protection.
  • 2. According to the amended Law on Protection, it will be a possibility only to limit such contact.
  • 3. Article 89a(1) and (2) Law on Protection.
  • 4. Letter from Border Guard Commander in Chief FAX-KG/CU/1981/IW/13 from 13 March 2013.
  • 5. Para 21 of the Rules of foreigners’ stay in guarded centre and arrest for foreigners (Annex to the Regulation on detention centres).
  • 6. Para 23 of the Rules of foreigners’ stay in guarded centre and arrest for foreigners (Annex to the Regulation on detention centres).
  • 7. Letter from the Border Guard KG-OI-III.0180.5.2017.AP from 19 January 2017.

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