Applicants who need special treatment are defined in particular as:
- Disabled people;
- Elderly people;
- Pregnant women;
- Single parents;
- Victims of human trafficking;
- Seriously ill;
- Mentally disordered people;
- Victims of torture;
- Victims of violence (psychological, psychological, including sexual).
Screening of vulnerability
Identification of vulnerable applicants is conducted by the Border Guard while registering the application for international protection and by the Office for Foreigners.
The Head of the Office for Foreigners is obliged to assess whether these persons need special treatment in the proceedings regarding granting international protection or regarding social assistance. In order to make this assessment, the authority can arrange for a medical or psychological examination of the applicant, funded by the state. In case the Head of the Office for Foreigners does not arrange for the medical or psychological examination, it is obliged to inform the person that might require special treatment that they can arrange for such an examination themselves and bear the costs. If a person does not agree to be subjected to medical or psychological examination, they should be considered a person that does not require special treatment. The Head of the Office for Foreigners should make the assessment immediately after the submission of the application for international protection and at any other time until the procedure is finished, in case any new circumstances arise.
In 2019, the UN Committee against Torture pointed out the problem with the appointment of experts to determine whether foreigner is a victim of torture. Responding to the Committee, the Polish delegation stressed that qualification as a victim of torture does not require an opinion from a specialist and is a part of specialised medical assistance provided during the refugee procedure.
According to the study from 2020, the Office for Foreigners representative admitted that typically a conversation with a psychologist is scheduled if the relevant fields in the application for international protection are ticked. Then the psychologist issues an opinion in which they recommend whether to treat an applicant as requiring special treatment.
Since 2017 in Biala Podlaska, near the reception centre, there has been a separate medical unit where initial verification of asylum seeker’s health is conducted. Both the procedure and medical unit are called “epidemiological filter”. The Office for Foreigners informed, that since 16 June 2019 every asylum seeker in the reception centre, subject to the obligatory procedure of epidemiological filter, is also subject to vulnerability screening. This is envisaged in the new contract for health services for asylum seekers from 4 June 2019.
NGOs generally confirm that the system of identification envisaged in the law does not work in practice. According to SIP, the Office for Foreigners does not, in principle, require opinions from experts in order to determine, for example, basing on of scars and wounds if an applicant has been a torture victim. Such a practice makes it difficult for foreigners to prove that they have been victims of torture in the country of origin. Foreigners arrive in Poland frequently with visible signs of torture. In such cases ordering of an examination by an expert could help acquire reliable evidence of experienced torture. In the opinion of SIP, problems with proper identification of the victims of violence remained in 2020.Persons who declared that they were victims of violence were not subject to medical or psychological treatment. Also psychologists present during interviews did not prepare opinions which would analyse this circumstance.
According to HFHR even in case of applicants with PTSD the inconsistencies in testimonies may lead to refusal of international protection. Also, at the later stages of the procedure, the appeal body or courts still do not appoint independent experts to determine applicants’ state of mental health.
NGOs documented important judgements in 2019 on the matter. The Supreme Administrative Court, and the Voivodeship Administrative Court in Warsaw, ruled on cases where the applicants were diagnosed with PTSD due to violence/torture experienced in their countries of origin, however examination has not been performed by experts appointed by the authorities deciding on international protection. The courts upheld refusal decisions on international protection stating that the testimonies of applicants were inconsistent, the courts also stated that the authorities had no obligation to appoint experts to assess mental state of health of the applicants. In the oral justification of the judgment from 16 May 2019 the Supreme Administrative Court stated that psychological opinions prepared by the Border Guards, doctors from psychiatric hospital and experts appointed by the detention court are not credible because they are based on the applicants’ testimonies (all of these opinions stated that the applicant experienced violence).
Identification of vulnerable applicants is also conducted by the Border Guard while registering the application for international protection (the Border Guard assesses whether an applicant may belong to one of these two groups: victims of trafficking in human beings or persons subject to torture). When applying to the court to place an applicant in detention, the Border Guard is also obliged to identify victims of violence and other persons for whom detention will cause a threat to life or health. For this purpose, the Border Guard implemented an algorithm, criticized by the Commissioner for Human Rights and NGOs (see Detention of vulnerable applicants).
The Office for Foreigners does not collect statistics on the number of asylum seekers identified as vulnerable, which was confirmed during UN CAT report on Poland in 2019. According a study for 2019, published in 2020, in which the Office for Foreigners representatives were interviewed, the largest group are individuals who were subject to physical or psychological violence. However, for the purpose of this report, the Office for Foreigners reported that in the fourth quarter of 2019, there were 274 asylum seekers identified as requiring special treatment, only 1 person identified as a victim of violence. In 2020 and 2021 the Office responded that there were no statistics in this regard.
According to the Office for Foreigners, identification of vulnerable applicants takes place also during regular psychological counselling, available in every reception centre and at the Office for Foreigners (see Health Care).
Age assessment of unaccompanied children
Polish law provides for an identification mechanism for unaccompanied children. An asylum seeker who claims to be a child, in case of any doubts as to their age, may have to undergo medical examinations – with their consent or with the consent of their legal representative – in order to determine their actual age. There are no additional criteria set in law.
In case of lack of consent, the applicant is considered an adult. Results of the medical examination should contain the information, if an asylum seeker is an adult. In case of any doubts, the applicant is considered as a minor. The responsibility for undertaking a medical examination is triggered by the authorities and shall be ensured by the SG. The law states that examination should be done in a manner respecting dignity and using the least invasive technique.
In December 2016 guidelines on age assessment were drafted and were still applicable as of 2021
 Article 68(1) Law on Protection.
 Article 68(3)-(6) Law on Protection.
 Poland, UN Web TV, Consideration of Poland (Cont’d) – 1762nd Meeting, 67th Session of Committee Against Torture, 24 July 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2RXiHqd, and reply of Poland, UN Committee against Torture, Concluding observations on the seventh periodic report of Poland, 22-24 July 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2twn02w.
 Pachocka, M. and Sobczak-Szelc K., ‘Refugee Protection Poland – Country Report’, Multilevel Governance of Mass Migration in Europe and Beyond Project (Horizon2020), January 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2U1A9uL; 69.
 Information provided by the Office for Foreigners on 9 April 2020.
 Association for Legal Intervention (Stowarzyszenie Interwencji Prawnej, SIP), Komentarz SIP: sprawozdanie Polski przed Komitetem przeciwko Torturom ONZ (Association for Legal Intervention comments on Poland’s reporting before UN Committee against Torture), 30 July 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/397QNOg.
 Legal Intervention Association (SIP), Raport SIP w działaniu, Prawa cudzoziemców w Polsce w 2020 r. [Report SIP in action. Rights of foreigners in Poland in 2020], available (PL) at: https://bit.ly/3LnxrIB, 13.
 The Supreme Administrative Court, judgments from 16.05.2019, II OSK 3536/18 and from 13.06.2019, II OSK 3769/18 (not published).
 The Voivodeship Administrative Court in Warsaw judgment from 4.04.2019, IV SA/Wa 353/19 (not published).
 Information from HFHR obtained on 30 October 2019 and 10 January 2020.
 Ordinance of 5 November 2015 on the asylum application form (Rozporządzenie Ministra Spraw Wewnętrznych z dnia 5 listopada 2015 r. w sprawie wzoru formularza wniosku o udzielenie ochrony międzynarodowej), available (in Polish) at: http://bit.ly/1hljviW.
 Pachocka, M. and Sobczak-Szelc K., ‘Refugee Protection Poland – Country Report’, Multilevel Governance of Mass Migration in Europe and Beyond Project (Horizon2020), January 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2U1A9uL, p. 69.
 Information provided by the Office for Foreigners on 9 April 2020.
 Information provided by the Office for Foreigners, 1 February 2018.
 Article 32 Law on Protection.
 Article 32(5) Law on Protection.
 Article 32 Law on Protection.
 Article 32(4) Law on Protection.
 Information provided by the Border Guard, 5 February 2021. No further information on age assessment was provided for the years 2016-2020.