There are two types of detention centres in Poland, both used for detaining asylum seekers and foreigners subject to return procedures, namely guarded centres and so-called rigorous detention centres.
All detention centres are for migration-related purposes and the Border Guard is in charge of their management. Asylum seekers are never placed in regular prisons with ordinary prisoners but are detained together with migrants in an irregular situation in a guarded centre or rigorous detention centre. There is no special facility where only asylum seekers are detained.
The design and layout of some of the centres create the impression of a prison-like environment: thick walls, bars in the windows (Krosno, Białystok, Przemyśl) and on the corridors. In addition, all centres are surrounded by high walls topped with barbed wire.
Until August 2021, there were 6 guarded detention centres in Poland, which were generally profiled according to demographics: Lesznowola, Białystok, Przemyśl, and Krosno Odrzańskie were for men. Women, married couples, and families with children were placed in Kętrzyn, Biała Podlaska (closed for renovation, re-opened at the end of 2021) and Przemyśl. Unaccompanied children are placed in the detention centre in Kętrzyn.
Due to the situation at the Polish-Belarusian border, the number of guarded detention centres increased to 9 (opened in August 2021) and the number of places there increased to 2,256 (compared to 595 in 2020, 494 in 2019, 590 in 2018 and 608 in 2017).
The detention centre in Biała Podlaska (which was in the open centre) was closed in June 2022. The detention centres in Wędrzyn and Czerwony Bór – in August 2022. At the same time, the new department for families with children at the detention centre in Lesznowola will be completed in 2023 and will have a capacity of 200 places. Starting from March 2023, the detention centre in Kętrzyn will only accommodate male detainees. On the other hand, the centre in Biała Podlaska is only detention centre for families with children.
As of December 2022, the maximum capacity of detention centres was 1,152 places.
Detention centres for foreigners are located in:
|Centre||Maximum capacity in 2020||Occupancy end 2020||Maximum capacity in 2021||Occupancy end 2021||Maximum capacity in 2022||Occupancy end 2022|
|Biała Podlaska (adopted open centre)||200||152||0||0|
Przemyśl (Arrest for Foreigners)
Source: Border Guard, 1 February 2022, 29 March 2022, 25 January 2023, 7 March 2023.
The profiles of detention centres were changed a couple of times. As of April 2023, in five detention centres (Kętrzyn, Krosno Odrzańskie, Lesznowola, Białystok and Przemyśl) there are only male detainees and families and single women are placed in the Biała Podlaska detention centre.
Families were placed together in one room or in the containers in Kętrzyn but due to overcrowding two families were placed in one container which violated their right to privacy. In the detention centre in Kętrzyn there is a separate section designated for unaccompanied irregular migrant children (15 places) and 2 places (1 room) for individuals with a certificate of disability.
Generally, single men were placed in rooms according to their nationality or preferences, except for Wędrzyn and Czerwony Bór. According to Border Guards, there is a possibility to change a room on a foreigner’s justified demand and availability of the rooms.
Polish authorities removed bars from the windows in some detention centres and installed special secure windows in Lesznowola, Kętrzyn and Biała Podlaska (in a reopened detention centre).
Conditions were particularly difficult at the temporary centre in Wędrzyn. Foreigners had very limited access to medical assistance (including physicians and psychologists) as well as had difficulties accessing computers and the Internet. According to the Ombudsman, the centre had only isolating functions. The number of toilets available and the level of hygiene in the location were both highly unsatisfactory. Moreover, the living rooms and TV rooms had an insufficient number of tables, stools and chairs, as well as cabinets for personal belongings in relation to the number of accommodated foreigners. The rooms designated for foreigners had no handles on their doors, and disorder was prevalent in the common areas, such as corridors, washrooms, bathrooms, toilets, computer rooms, and TV rooms.
“Rigorous detention centres” (areszt dla cudzoziemców)
The term, literally translated as “arrests for foreigners”, replaced that of “pre-removal centres” as of 1 May 2014. These facilities impose more rigorous conditions of detention than guarded centres. Until December 2012 there were 5 such centres. At of the end of 2022, there were 24 places in Przemyśl for men and women. The building is single unit with a separate entrance. 31 foreigners in total were placed in the Przemyśl centre in 2022. The facility is covered by video surveillance that includes residential cells, public areas and the outside area 24 hours per day.
An asylum seeker can be placed in a more rigorous detention centre for foreigners only if there is a risk that they will not obey the rules in force in a guarded centre or the applicant has already disobeyed these rules. These detention centres are more prison-like than guarded centres. An asylum seeker placed in such a centre cannot freely move around (he or she is closed in the ward), cannot go outside for a walk whenever he or she wants except for two hours per day etc. In practice, it means that foreigners have to stay in a cell for most of the day and have limited access to additional activities. The foreigners have limited access to the internet and the phone.
According to the Commissioner for Human Rights, sanitary and living prison-like conditions are not sufficient and not meeting the provisions of the international standards of the rights of persons in administrative detention. One of the problems was the lack of sanitary corners in the cells. Individuals, therefore, have to call an officer every time they need to use the toilet. In the case of high occupancy in the facility, this can result in prolonged waiting times to deal with physiological needs. The living cells are permanently monitored and furniture items are permanently fixed to the floor.
Foreigners have a right to use two walking yards, twice a day by one hour. On the other hand, in the opinion of the representatives of the Commissioner, health condition of foreigners placed in this facility was justifying their release from detention. Furthermore, there were, among others, 6 Afghan nationals, who were previously not placed in detention centre for foreigners.
The Commissioner also pointed out that the very mode of placing foreigners in rigorous detention raises concerns. The risk the risk that a foreigner may not adhere to the rules of their stay is considered to be a sufficient ground for placing in this type of facility. However, the concept of “risk” is vague. If it does not have to be assessed on the basis of the facts of a specific case, it may lead to abuse of detention.
Previously, the KMPT analysed court decisions on the detention of foreigners in the Guarded Centre and Detention Centre for Foreigners in Przemyśl. It was found that, in some situations, sufficient arguments for doing so – bypassing the guarded centre – included crossing the border in violation of the law, lack of documents or the assumption that Poland was supposed to be a transit country for the foreigner. And it did not appear from the documentation that the persons actively resisted arrest or demonstrated in any way that they would not comply with the regulations of the guarded centre. According to the Commissioner, the risk of non-compliance with the rules of stay in a guarded centre should be real and examined on a case-by-case basis, based on the specific attitude and behaviour of the foreigner.
 Information BG, Przemyśl 10 March 2023, Krosno 3 March 2023.
 Information of the Border Guard Headquarters, 4 March 2022.
 Information from BG Headquarters, 25 January 2023.
 In Bialystok, in the past there was also an arrest for foreigners which was closed. Since August this arrest was reopened for single men as a temporary place of detention for single men stopped at the border. It means that migrants are placed there for some weeks and transported to men detention centres.
 [Sytuacja cudzoziemców w ośrodkach strzeżonych w dobie kryzysu na granicy Polski i Białorusi Raport z wizytacji Krajowego Mechanizmu Prewencji Tortur, [Situation of foreigners in the guarded centres in times of crisis on the border of Poland and Belarus”, Report NPM, June 2022, available in Polish here: https://bit.ly/3URYZek.
 Commissioner for Human Rights, Letter to the Regional Courts, 25 January 2022, available at: https://bit.ly/3HnQZJL.
 Information provided by the Border Guard, 14 and 25 January 2019; Article 414(4) Law on Foreigners.
 Information provided by the Border Guard, 18 January 2020.
 Information provided by Border Guard, 5 February 2021.
 Commissioner for Human Rights, available in Polish available at: https://bit.ly/3M7oXpx.
 See also: Poland: Cruelty Not Compassion, At Europe’s Other Borders, April 2022, available in English here: https://bit.ly/3mOh2FV.
 Preparation of state bodies in case of a mass influx of foreigners to Poland, Supreme Audit Office, NIK, Przygotowanie organów państwa na wypadek masowego napływu cudzoziemców do Polski, available in Polish: https://bit.ly/3mWDvQY.
 Order No 23 of the Ministry of Interior of 1 July 2014 on the designation of areas in which the arrest for foreigners is executed.
 Information provided by the Border Guard, 14 and 25 January 2019.
 Information provided by Border Guards for SIP, 17 February 2023.
 Information provided by BG, 10 March 2023.
 Article 88a(2) Law on Protection.
 Centrum Pomocy Prawnej im. Haliny Nieć, K. Przybysławska (Ed.), Monitoring of Forced Returns from Poland July 2014-June 2015, 35-36.
 Commissioner for Human Rights, Cudzoziemcy zbyt łatwo trafiają do aresztu – zamiast do ośrodka. Wystąpienie do MSWiA, Foreigners are too easily taken into custody – instead of a centre. Submission to the Ministry of the Interior and Administration, available in Polish at https://bit.ly/42n27ly.
 Commissioner for Human Rights, Visit in detention centre in Przemyśl, available at: https://bit.ly/3pm3PSA.
 Commissioner for Human Rights, Cudzoziemcy zbyt łatwo trafiają do aresztu – zamiast do ośrodka. Wystąpienie do MSWiA, Foreigners are too easily taken into custody – instead of a centre. Submission to the Ministry of the Interior and Administration, available in Polish at https://bit.ly/42n27ly, NPM, Report on a visit in arrest in Przemysl, 30 January 2023, available at: https://bit.ly/3NI3nel.