Conditions in reception facilities

Poland

Country Report: Conditions in reception facilities Last updated: 24/05/22

Author

Independent

The Head of the Office for Foreigners is responsible for the management of all the centres. This authority can delegate its responsibility for managing the centres to social organisations, associations, private owners, companies, etc.[1] Currently 5 reception centres are managed by the private contractors, while the remaining ones are directly managed by the Office for Foreigners.

The Office for Foreigners monitors the situation in the centres managed by private contractors on a daily basis through the Office’s employees working in those centres and through the overall inspections taking place two times a year.[2]

Conditions in the centres managed by the Office for Foreigners are occasionally monitored by other authorities and entities as well, e.g. in 2021, sanitary authorities and the UNHCR. Moreover, in September 2021, the Commissioner for Human Rights conducted an unannounced inspection of the reception centre in Dębak. The inspection was triggered by the recent incident in the centre where two children have died due to mushroom poisoning (see Overall living conditions). The Commissioner’s representative monitored conditions in the centre and the quality of the food served to asylum seekers there. They also spoke with some residents, who assessed the conditions and food as good.[3]

Asylum seekers can complain to the Office for Foreigners on the situation in the centres[4], but until recently they rarely lodged such complaints. In 2019 and 2020, the Office for Foreigners registered 13 and 5 complaints respectively, however all of them concerned medical assistance, not conditions in reception centres.[5] In 2021, in total 86 complaints were submitted, including 20 concerning food in the centres – its quality and amounts. Asylum seekers complained also on the performance of the duties by the centres’ employees.[6]

 

Overall living conditions

Living conditions differ across the reception centres. In the centres managed by private contractors ensuring certain minimum living conditions standards is obligatory on the basis of agreements between these contractors and the Office for Foreigners. Thus, centres have to have furnished rooms for asylum applicants, a separate common room for men and for women, kindergarten, space to practice religion, a recreation area, school rooms, specified number of refrigerators and washing machines. Other conditions are dependent on the willingness and financial capacities of the contractor. Most often, one family stays in one room, without separated bedrooms or kitchen. Moreover, usually the centres do not offer separated bathrooms and kitchens, only the common ones.[7]

None of the centres was built in order to serve as a centre for foreigners. Most of them were used for different purposes before, as army barracks, hostels for workers or holiday resorts.[8]

In general, conditions in the reception centres are considered to be better now than in the past years. It results from the greater attention given to the living conditions when a contractor for running a centre is being chosen and the renovations conducted in the recent years in the centres that are managed by the Office for Foreigners.[9] Despite that, some asylum seekers complain about those conditions, mentioning for instance bed bugs in the rooms.[10] According to the NGOs, asylum seekers generally assess the conditions in the centres rather low.[11] For instance, in the research conducted in the centre in Grupa foreigners predominantly complained about the food served in the centre. They assessed the centre’s cleanliness, appearance and furnishings mostly as ‘average’ or ‘bad’.[12] Meanwhile, the Office for Foreigners’ anonymous survey conducted in January 2020 in 10 reception centres has shown that asylum seekers living there are overall satisfied with the material reception conditions they receive. The survey concerned accommodation (equipment, cleanness, etc.), food, medical assistance and centres’ employees. In most of the centres, the level of satisfaction ranged from 70 to 95%. The centres in Linin and Grupa have been rated the worst, with 42.75% and 58% levels of satisfactions respectively. Overall, asylum seekers most often complained about food and medical assistance provided in the centres.[13] The survey was repeated in May 2021, results were not made available.[14]

In August and September 2021, the food served in the reception centres was in the spotlight due to the mushroom poisoning in the Dębak centre that led to death of two children shortly after their evacuation from Afghanistan. According to some accounts, the children were hungry due to the insufficient amount of food served in the centre and for that reason they ate mushrooms that they picked in the woods surrounding the centre.[15] The Commissioner for Human Rights’ inspection in the Dębak reception centre confirmed that at that time – since foreigners were quarantined – they were served meals twice a day (instead of three times). Dinners were served together with breakfasts (on two separate plates).[16] The Office for Foreigners firmly denied that there had been not enough food offered in the centre.[17] However, it should not be overlooked that in 2021, 20 complaints were submitted to the Office for Foreigners concerning quality and amount of food offered in the reception centres.[18] Polskie Forum Migracyjne, noticed, on the one hand, that the reception centres receive less money for asylum seekers’ food than public kindergartens, child care homes or hospitals. In consequence, food served in reception centres is not sufficiently diversified and adapted to cultural differences.[19] Thus, asylum seekers may not want to eat it. The NGO pointed out also that there is not enough social workers and interpreters in the reception centres who could guide asylum seekers during their stay there. On the other hand, it acknowledged that the evacuation of Afghans put a lot of strain on Polish asylum reception system in a short period of time.[20] In the aftermath of the tragedy, the children’s family was offered psychological assistance and given additional, daily assistance by the designated employee of the centre[21]. In the Dębak centre, pictograms in English were hanged explaining that mushrooms and plants that can be found in the nearby forest should not be eaten; a special meeting was also organized to explain the matter to the residents.[22] In December 2021, the criminal proceedings into the death of two brothers have been discontinued. Their death was qualified as unfortunate accident. It was concluded that the Afghan family had access to food in the Dębak centre.[23]

Since 2014, protests or hunger strikes in reception centres were reported only in 2018 and 2020. In 2018 one asylum seeker informed the Office for Foreigners in writing that he has started a hunger strike since his and his wife’s asylum procedures had been separated because they had split up. In 2020, women and single mothers staying in the centre in Warsaw opposed the limitations that resulted from the COVID-19 quarantine. According to the Office for Foreigners, thanks to immediate reaction of the Office, medical operator and NGOs, the situation was quickly under control.[24]

In every centre, there are two kinds of staff: employees of the Office for Foreigners and other employees (as kitchen aids, cleaners etc.). As of December 2021, there were 22 employees of Office for Foreigners working in all the centres and a variable number of other workers.[25] As regards the staff rate, in 2021, one employee of the Office for Foreigners was in charge of 227 asylum seekers maximum (staying outside and inside centres), including 85 asylum seekers living in the centres.[26] Staff in the centre is working from Monday to Friday from 7:00 to 18:00. They are mainly responsible for the administration of the centre, not for a social work with asylum seekers. The number of employees of the Office for Foreigners and the scope of their responsibilities are considered insufficient.[27] At night and on weekends only guards are present in the centre. Security staff is available in all centres around the clock.

 

Activities in the centres

Polish language courses are organised in all reception centres, both for children and adults. Those courses are considered the only integration activity provided by the Office for Foreigners.[28] See more in Access to Education.

In 2021, NGOs carried out some projects in the centres which aimed at providing:

  • Education (learning Polish, assistance with homework and online schooling, integration activities);
  • Psychological assistance;
  • Legal assistance.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NGOs’ access to the reception centres was limited. Psychological, legal and educational assistance was provided online or by phone in the first half of 2021. NGOs were able to access the reception centres again in the second half of the year.[29]

Four centres have libraries[30] and all centres have access to internet.[31]

In all centres there is a special room designed for religious practices. If asylum seekers want to participate in religious services outside of the centre, they have such a right, although in practice the remoteness from the closest place of worship can prevent them from participating in such services.

 

 

 

[1] Article 79(2) Law on Protection.

[2] Information provided by the Office for Foreigners, 15 January 2019 and 22 January 2020.

[3] Commissioner for Human Rights, ‘Wizytacja RPO w ośrodku dla cudzoziemców w Podkowie Leśnej-Dębaku’, 6 September 2021, available in Polish at https://bit.ly/377Odw1.

[4] Para 17 of the Annex to the Regulation on rules of stay in the centre for asylum seekers.

[5] Information provided by the Office for Foreigners, 22 January 2020 and 26 January 2021.

[6] Information provided by the Office for Foreigners, 26 January 2022.

[7] W. Goszczyński, R. Baczyński-Sielaczek, J. Suchomska, J. Stankowska and M. Wróblewski. ‘Lokalne systemy integracji uchodźców – badania’ in Fundacja EMIC and Pracownia Zrównoważonego Rozwoju, Wielogłos. Integracja uchodźców w polskich gminach, 2016, avaialble (in Polish) at: https://bit.ly/31uBLiE, 63, 67.

[8] See Lukasiewicz, K., ‘Exile to Poverty: Policies and Poverty Among Refugees in Poland’, International Migration Vol. 55 (6) 2017, 61.

[9] M. Pachocka, K. Pędziwiatr, K. Sobczak-Szelc, J. Szałańska, ‘Reception Policies, Practices and Responses: Poland Country Report’, 2020, RESPOND Working Papers 2020/45, available at: http://bit.ly/3jLCvsV, 43-44, 60.

[10] With regard to the centres in Warsaw – Targówek and Dębak, see ibid., 44-45, 61. 

[11] See i.a. W. Goszczyński, R. Baczyński-Sielaczek, J. Suchomska, J. Stankowska and M. Wróblewski. ‘Lokalne systemy integracji uchodźców – badania’ in Fundacja EMIC and Pracownia Zrównoważonego Rozwoju, Wielogłos. Integracja uchodźców w polskich gminach (2016), avaialble (in Polish) at: https://bit.ly/31uBLiE, 64.

[12] Ibid, 65-67.

[13] Information provided by the Office for Foreigners, 4 March 2021.

[14] Information provided by the Office for Foreigners, 26 January 2022.

[15] R. Kowalski, S. Klauziński, ‘ Dwoje afgańskich dzieci w krytycznym stanie po zatruciu grzybami. W ośrodku brakowało jedzenia’, 30 August 2021, available in Polish at: https://bit.ly/3KfuQ21.

[16] Commissioner for Human Rights, ‘Wizytacja RPO w ośrodku dla cudzoziemców w Podkowie Leśnej-Dębaku’, 6 September 2021, available in Polish at: https://bit.ly/377Odw1.

[17] Office for Foreigners, ‘Komunikat ws. Zatrucia w ośrodku dla cudzoziemców’, available in Polish at: https://bit.ly/3sQTr7P.

[18] Information provided by the Office for Foreigners, 26 January 2022.

[19] However, the Office for Foreigners points out that the cultural adaptation of food is in fact required in the centres and monitored by its employees (information provided by the Office for Foreigners, 26 January 2022).

[20] Polskie Forum Migracyjne, ‘Zatrucie grzybami w Dębaku – Komentarz PFM’, Facebook, 31 August 2021, available in Polish at: https://bit.ly/3vIX69l.

[21] Ibid.; Office for Foreigners, ‘Komunikat ws. zatrucia w ośrodku dla cudzoziemców’, available in Polish at: https://bit.ly/3sQTr7P; information provided by the Office for Foreigners, 26 January 2022.

[22] Commissioner for Human Rights, ‘Wizytacja RPO w ośrodku dla cudzoziemców w Podkowie Leśnej-Dębaku’, 6 September 2021, available in Polish at: https://bit.ly/377Odw1; information provided by the Office for Foreigners, 26 January 2022.

[23] I. Kacprzak, G. Zawadka, ‘Tragiczne grzybobranie Afgańczyków – koniec śledztwa’, 3 January 2022, available in Polish at: https://bit.ly/35UyG20.

[24] Information provided by the Office for Foreigners, 15 January 2019 and 26 January 2021.

[25] Information provided by the Office for Foreigners, 26 January 2022.

[26] Ibid.

[27] See also SIP, ‘Raport nt. przeciwdziałania przemocy wobec kobiet i przemocy domowej’, 16 September 2021, available in Polish at: https://bit.ly/3tyl04y, mentioning that employees in the reception centres are not social workers and they are not prepared to work with vulnerable persons such as victims of domestic violence. See also M. Pachocka, K. Pędziwiatr, K. Sobczak-Szelc, J. Szałańska ‘Reception Policies, Practices and Responses: Poland Country Report’, 2020, RESPOND Working Papers 2020/45, available at: http://bit.ly/3jLCvsV, 64-65.

[28] W. Goszczyński, R. Baczyński-Sielaczek, J. Suchomska, J. Stankowska and M. Wróblewski. ‘Lokalne systemy integracji uchodźców – badania’ in Fundacja EMIC and Pracownia Zrównoważonego Rozwoju, Wielogłos. Integracja uchodźców w polskich gminach, 2016, avaialble (in Polish) at: https://bit.ly/31uBLiE, 69.

[29] Information provided by the Office for Foreigners, 26 January 2022.

[30] Until July 2021 when it was transformed into detention centre, the Biała Podlaska centre also had a library.

[31] Information provided by the Office for Foreigners, 26 January 2022.

Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection
  • ANNEX I – Transposition of the CEAS in national legislation