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Immigration Detention in Poland: Systematic Family Detention and Lack of Individualised Assessment -October 2018

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KEY CONCERNS

• Detention orders frequently lack individualised assessments and observers argue that detention measures are not applied as a last resort.

• Detainees are required to pay for their detention.

• The country places high numbers of families with children in detention.

• There are no well-developed mechanisms for identifying victims of violence and medical checks are not provided when entering detention.

• Although the law stipulates that asylum seekers should not be detained if detention constitutes a threat to their life or health, courts rarely consider mental health when issuing detention orders.

• While material conditions in detention are generally considered to meet basic standards, some facilities have been criticised for having prison-like environments.

  1. INTRODUCTION

Poland has not faced the same immigration-related challenges that some of its European neighbours have experienced and yet public discourse in the country is rife with anti-immigrant rhetoric that portrays foreigners as security threats. Like its “Visegrad Group” counterparts—the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia— Poland has refused to participate in efforts to improve the EU asylum system and rejected a quota system aimed at distributing asylum seekers more evenly. Poland’s interior minister has characterised refugees as a “ticking time bomb.” Poland refused entry to 34,485 non-EU nationals in 2016, the third highest figure amongst EU states that year. Very few asylum seekers are granted protection: more than 80 percent of asylum requests are rejected in the first instance while 98.6 percent are rejected upon appeal. In 2017, 5,053 people lodged applications, but only 150 were granted refugee status and 340 subsidiary protection. These developments are taking place against a backdrop of steep declines in asylum requests: there were 5,045 in 2017, down from 12,305 in 2016. Asylum seekers are routinely pushed back across country’s eastern borders and denied access to asylum procedures. This practice is especially common at the border with Belarus—at the crossing of Terespol—where asylum seekers, predominantly from Tajikistan, Georgia, and the Russian Republic of Chechnya, are illegally returned to Belarus. In 2016, the UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) expressed concern over the difficulties faced by asylum seekers seeking to apply for protection at the Terespol border. Several cases of push backs of Chechen asylum seekers, including three families, have been submitted to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), which has granted interim measures in all of them. Poland has repeatedly refused to comply with these measures. In early 2017, the government proposed a draft amendment to the Law on Protection, which would impose detention on all individuals applying for asylum at the border, accelerate asylum proceedings at the border, and enforce removals without the possibility of appeal. The amendment also foresees development of a list of safe countries of origin, which would potentially include the Russian Federation, as well as a list of safe third countries, potentially including Ukraine and Belarus. Given that more than 80 percent of asylum applications in 2017 were filed by individuals of Russian (3,536 applications) or Ukrainian (668 applications) origin, this amendment would render the vast majority of asylum claims unfounded. As of October 2018, the amendment process was still on-going. Poland places approximately 1,200 people in immigration-related detention each year. Although material conditions in detention centres generally meet minimum standards, observers have criticised the prison-like set up of some of these facilities.
Concerns have also been expressed about the lack of consideration of “alternatives to detention,” the failure to provide separate detention decisions for children detained with their parents, the lack of adequate mechanisms to identify victims of torture or other forms of violence, and policy of requiring detainees to pay for their detention.