Does Poland Safe Refuge No More?
Poland is reducing the number of refugees it accepts each year, leading specialists and human rights workers to give mixed reviews of the country’s international protection system.
In the last few years, the number of people granted refugee status in Poland has followed a downward trend, dropping almost threefold between 2006 and 2007 and thereafter remaining at under 200 per year. Indeed, only 124 people were granted refugee status last year out of a total of 10,018 demands.
According to human rights workers, Poland’s record on international protection suffers some deficiencies.
“In our practice we meet cases when international protection was denied, even though in our opinion there were good reasons for granting it,” Agata Foryś, coordinator of the Legal Assistance to Refugees and Migrants program of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights in Poland, told Warsaw Business Journal.
In her experience, the type of protection issued the most generously by the Polish state is subsidiary protection based on risk of serious harm in case of return.
Although the Polish policy towards asylum and refugees is not defined in any official document available to the public, Poland’s status as the eastern frontier of the EU puts particular pressure on the country for efficient border control. “It determines the trends of asylum immigration to Poland,” commented Marek Szonert, director of the Bureau for International Cooperation at the Office for Foreigners (UDSC).
Some experts believe Poland meets the challenge adequately. “I think the general assessment of the Polish performance is quite good,” commented Dr Patryk Pawlak, from Warsaw University’s Center for International Relations.
Poland is also bound by visa requirement under the Schengen Agreement. To this effect, Fortex, the agency managing the EU’s external borders, noted a drop in traffic at the Polish–Ukrainian and Polish-Belarusian land borders, which it attributed to the introduction of more stringent visa requirements for entry into Poland after it became part of the Schengen Area in December 2007.
According to a recent report from the UNHCR, three out of every ten asylum requests lodged in Poland in 2009 were made by asylum-seekers originating from the Russian Federation. Russian nationals also form the majority of those granted refugee statuses in Poland. Last year, they formed 77 percent of all those granted refugee status in the country.
Although official statistics are not available to confirm this, specialists are unanimous in saying that more specifically, the overwhelming majority of asylum seekers and those granted refugee status in Poland are from the North Caucasus (Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan).
Recently however, an increasing refusal to grant protection has been justified by an improvement of the situation in the North-Caucasus and with the possibility of internal relocation within the Russian Federation, said Helsinki’s Agata Foryś.
In Mr Szonert’s opinion, “A lot of Chechen asylum seekers make the decision on voluntary return to their country of origin. Last year the Polish branch of the International Organization for Migration supported almost 1,600 such returnees,” he commented.
According to Ms Foryś, the integration of Chechen refugees who are granted international protection is a big challenge for Poland and its social security system.
“Poland is unable to meet all the needs of Chechen refugees and it can be observed that one-year integration assistance programs are not sufficient,” she commented. According to her, the most pressing problem for refugees (and low-income Poles alike) is a scarcity of cheap housing.