The report was previously updated in April 2020.
- Access to the territory: Access to the Polish territory remains a matter of concern in practice. Border monitoring activities and recent reports confirm the existence of grave systemic irregularities and illegal practices at borders, hindering the access to the asylum procedure. On 23 July 2020, the European Court of Human Rights concluded in K. and Others v Poland that the Polish authorities had failed to review the applicants’ requests for international protection and were responsible for collective expulsions, thereby exposing the applicants to a serious risk of chain-refoulement, in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Despite the ECtHR judgment, as well as other pending cases at national and European level, the Polish government still denies the existence of unlawful practices at the border. The COVID-19 pandemic and limitations on cross border movement added further obstacles to accessing international protection in Poland.
- First instance procedure: In 2020, a total of 2,803 applications for international protection were lodged, thus marking a -31% decreased compared to 2019 (4,095 applications). This is the lowest number of applications since 1999. It is also due to the suspension of activities of the Office for Foreigners from 16 March to 25 May 2020 in the context of COVID-19. The average processing time for a decision on the merits further increased from 152 days in 2019 to 207 in 2020, and the recognition rate at first instance remained very low at 16%. A total of 3,557 cases were pending by the end of 2020. Access to legal assistance remains very limited due to the lack of funding to NGOs.
- Second instance procedure: The chances of success of appeals at second instance remain very low. In 2020, out of 1,943 appeals, a total of 1,737 were rejected. The Refugee Board did not grant any refugee status and only granted subsidiary protection to 9 persons throughout the year. Even if the Voivodeship Administrative Court in Warsaw did not grant suspensive effect to the majority of appeals against decisions on international protection in 2020, it should be noted that the Refugee Board recommended its members to grant said suspensive effect in times of COVID. Moreover, on the basis of the COVID Law, the time limit to leave Poland was extended by 30 days after the epidemic state (or the state of epidemic threat) is finished.
- Nationalities of applicants: While Russia remains the main country of origin, the number of applications lodged by Belarussian nationals has largely increased from 37 in 2019 to 407 in 2020. Belarus was thus the second main country of origin in 2020.The Government introduced many policies enabling Belarussians to enter Poland as migrants – such as visa facilitations and facilitations in obtaining residence permits. According to the Office for Foreigners, Belarusians constitute the second-largest group of foreigners in Poland, with around 28,000 of them holding residence permits in 2020.
- Access to reception conditions: Similarly to the access to the asylum procedure, COVID-19 hampered the access to material reception conditions. The lack of access to material reception conditions is particularly worrying for persons who are waiting to officially apply for asylum as they are not – by law – entitled to any benefits during that waiting time. However, NGOs inform that, in practice, due to the pandemic, some asylum seekers were allowed to access material reception conditions in those circumstances.
- Forms and levels of reception conditions: The year 2020 was marked by an increase of persons living outside of reception centres. While there were only 819 persons accommodated in reception centres at the end of 2020, around 2,225 persons were receiving assistance outside from reception centres (compared to 1,295 and 1,640 respectively in 2019). However, the financial allowance that is provided to them to meet basic needs remains insufficient. On average, asylum seeker receives 1,5 to 2 times less than what is essential according to the “social minimum”. Thus, one NGO submitted a complaint to the European Commission pointing to the fact that Poland is not complying with its obligations stemming from Article 17(2) of the recast Reception Conditions Directive (2013/33/EU).
- Access to education: The Supreme Audit Office published a report in 2020 demonstrating that, for many years, the Ministry of Education was not showing any interest in the education of foreign children in Poland. The report further shows an incorrect or insufficient implementation of national legislation by schools in this regard. Moreover, during COVID 19 asylum-seeking children faced obstacles in participating to online lessons due to a shortage of computers and other necessary tools.
Detention of asylum seekers
- Detention capacity: Due to COVID-19 pandemic the number of available places in detention centres has been reduced in Białystok, Lesznowola and Biała Podlaska. One section of the detention centre in Białystok was further closed for renovation.
- Detention of children: The best interest of the child is not properly assessed in detention proceedings. The courts rely on motions issued by Border Guard for detention, without a proper assessment of individual circumstances and regardless of the best interest of the child. Experts’ opinion are very rarely requested and psychological opinions stating that detention has a negative impact on the child’s well-are disregarded in practice. Children cannot exercise their right to be heard as they are not involved in detention proceedings. Moreover, detention is not ruled for the shortest period of time and there are little efforts to reduce the duration of detention of children.
- Alternatives to detention: The use of alternatives to detention continues to be the exception and has significantly decreased in 2020. During that year, only 1,023 alternatives to detention were ordered, compared to more than 3,000 in 2019 – although it should be noted that these figures do not refer strictly to asylum seekers but to other foreigners as well. The courts often claim that applying alternatives to detention is impossible, as they have no regular place of residency or savings, ignoring the fact that asylum seekers are entitled to stay in reception centres and receive pocket money.
- Legal assistance in detention: Foreigners are not informed about their right to legal assistance to appeal against a detention order by the court. As a result, foreigners are not able to present their views before the court decides on detention.
Content of international protection
- Residence permits: During the COVID-19 pandemic, the validity of the residence cards provided to beneficiaries of international protection was prolonged by law until 30 days after the end of the epidemiological state in Poland.
- Integration: Studies show that housing is one of the major issues for both asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection in Poland. Inadequate quality of housing results in slowing down the integration process of foreigners to the new socio-cultural conditions of their host country, and may have a negative impact on their physical and mental health. Another important gap identified relates to the lack of specialised medical services for victims of torture or traumatised refugees.