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U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - Poland

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 January 1999
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - Poland , 1 January 1999, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8c724.html [accessed 29 August 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

At the end of 1998, Poland hosted more than 1,300 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included about 1,250 asylum seekers awaiting a decision by the Department of Migration and Refugee Affairs (DMRA) and 62 refugees granted status during the year. During 1998, 3,373 persons filed asylum applications in Poland, a slight decrease from the 3,533 in 1997. The largest number of asylum seekers in 1998 came from Armenia (978), followed by Sri Lanka (643), Yugoslavia (416), and Afghanistan (331).

Of the 3,208 persons whose cases were considered during 1998, some 55 percent (1,759 persons) were closed, in most cases because the applicant abandoned the application. During the year, Polish authorities granted refugee status to 62 persons and denied the applications of 1,387 individuals, a 4 percent approval rate – substantially lower than the 19 percent approval rate in 1997. Nationals of Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Somalia, and Belarus accounted for most of the approvals.

The Polish government contends that the high number of abandoned applications in recent years indicates that most asylum seekers only filed applications as a stop-gap measure to bide time in their attempts to reach points farther west. However, delays in the refugee determination procedure, coupled with limited prospects for refugees to integrate into Polish society, have also caused many asylum seekers to abandon their claims and leave Poland.

Asylum Procedure

Poland began implementing a new aliens law in 1998. Effective on December 27, 1997, the law includes guidelines to regulate the asylum procedure, inspired, in part, by Poland's desire to conform with European Union (EU) standards, in preparation for Poland's possibly joining the EU. The new law contains provisions for asylum seekers arriving from "safe third countries" and "safe countries of origin" as well as a procedure for handling "manifestly unfounded" claims. As of August 1998, the Polish government had yet to list safe third countries and safe countries of origin, as the new law mandates.

Under the new law, asylum seekers normally must request asylum at the border when crossing into Poland. Applicants who can demonstrate that threats to their health or security prevented them from applying at the border may lodge an application with the DMRA within 14 days. Individuals with sur place refugee claims also have two weeks to file from the event causing them to claim asylum. Asylum seekers entering the country illegally must apply for asylum immediately upon arrival. Filing for asylum, however, will not exempt the asylum seeker from penalties for his or her illegal border crossing, including detention – a provision that conflicts with Article 31 of the UN Refugee Convention.

In November 1998, UNHCR reported that these filing requirements blocked some would-be asylum seekers from applying for asylum. Polish authorities reportedly denied on procedural grounds the cases of other asylum seekers who did not meet the filing requirements but nevertheless managed to lodge an asylum application.

The DMRA, responsible for making first-instance refugee status determinations, has three months to issue decisions on individual cases. Asylum seekers usually reside in government-run refugee reception centers during the normal asylum procedure. Most denied asylum applicants are not allowed to remain in the reception centers during the appeals process but are eligible to stay in Polish homeless shelters. In practice, most applicants awaiting appeals decisions during 1998 relied on UNHCR support for accommodation and assistance.

The right of asylum seekers to an effective appeal remained questionable in 1998. Although the new aliens law calls for the creation of an independent agency to decide appeals – the Council for Refugees (hereafter "council") – the council did not operate in 1998. In its absence, the Ministry of Interior, which is also responsible for issuing first instance decisions through the DMRA, continued to issue appeals decisions during the year. The council is expected to function in 1999.

As was previously the case, asylum seekers may appeal negative second-instance decisions to the Supreme Administrative Court under the new law. The court, however, may rule on points of law only.

Recognized refugees have the right to work, receive social assistance on the same terms as Polish citizens, and are eligible for citizenship after five years of permanent residence. In April 1998, responsibility for running integration programs for recognized refugees passed from the DMRA to the Ministry of Labor's Department of Social Assistance (DSA). The DSA and local authorities, however, made few preparations for the transfer, leaving many newly recognized refugees without basic assistance.

Readmission Agreements

Poland and Sweden signed a readmission agreement on September 1, 1998. Poland has also concluded readmission agreements with Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Moldova, the Netherlands, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Ukraine. These agreements address issues solely related to the return of nationals of the contracting states and third-country nationals who enter the contracting states illegally.

In November 1998, UNHCR reported that asylum seekers returned to Poland on the basis of readmission agreements are able to apply for asylum provided they make their requests at the border. Germany reportedly informs asylum seekers it returns to Poland on safe third country grounds of the possibility of applying for asylum in Poland. However, Polish border guards may detain undocumented foreigners, including asylum seekers, for up to 90 days. Border guards may also issue expulsion orders to undocumented asylum seekers, although filing for asylum will suspend their deportation.

In November, UNHCR recommended that governments returning asylum seekers to Poland on safe third country grounds seek assurances that the Polish authorities will readmit the asylum seekers in question and allow them to enter a fair and effective determination procedure.

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