Last Updated: Friday, 21 October 2016, 12:24 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Poland

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2000
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Poland , 1 June 2000, available at: [accessed 21 October 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 1999, Poland hosted about 1,280 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included some 900 asylum seekers awaiting a decision by the Department of Migration and Refugee Affairs (DMRA), about 300 Kosovars with temporary residence permits, about 30 rejected Yugoslav asylum seekers still in need of protection, and 48 refugees granted status during the year.

During 1999, 2,864 persons filed asylum applications in Poland, a 15 percent decrease from the 3,373 filed in 1998. The largest number of asylum seekers in 1999 came from Armenia (853), followed by Afghanistan (551), Romania (203), Bulgaria (181), Mongolia (155), and Yugoslavia (128).

During the year, Polish authorities granted refugee status to 48 persons, an approval rate of two percent, even lower than the four percent rate in 1998. Nationals of Somalia, Sudan, Russia, and Belarus accounted for most of the approvals. Poland denied the applications of 2,404 applicants. The DRMA closed 762 of the 3,214 cases considered in 1999 because the applicants had abandoned their applications.

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 father west. However, the low approval rate and delays in the refugee determination procedure, coupled with limited prospects for refugees to integrate into Polish society, have also caused some asylum seekers to abandon their claims and leave Poland.

Asylum Procedure

Poland acceded to the UN Refugee Convention and Protocol in 1991. Poland's asylum procedure is based on its 1997 Aliens Law.

Asylum seekers normally must request asylum 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 of arrival. 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 illegal border crossing, including detention, a provision that conflicts with Article 31 of the UN Refugee Convention.

In December 1999, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that these filing requirements blocked some would-be asylum seekers from applying for asylum. Polish authorities reportedly denied the cases of other asylum seekers who did not meet the filing requirements but nevertheless managed to lodge an asylum application. However, the Polish Supreme Administrative Court issued a landmark decision in August stating that transgression of filing deadlines can no longer be a basis for rejecting an asylum claim.

Polish 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. By the end of 1999, however, the Polish government had yet to create lists of safe third countries and safe countries of origin, as the law mandates. Excepting those rejected on procedural grounds, all asylum applications were accepted and processed in 1999, and the authorities treated no cases as "manifestly unfounded."

The DMRA, responsible for making first-instance refugee status determinations, has three months to issue decisions on individual cases.

The 1997 Aliens Law called for the creation of an independent agency to decide appeals – a Council for Refugees – which did not become operational until March 1999. Asylum seekers may appeal negative second-instance decisions to the Supreme Administrative Court under the new law. This court, however, may rule on points of law only, and an appeal lodged with the court does not necessarily suspend deportation orders.

Asylum seekers usually reside in government-run refugee reception centers during the normal asylum procedure. At year's end, 440 asylum seekers were receiving assistance at centers. Asylum applicants may remain in the reception centers until the Council for Refugees issues a negative decision in the second instance. In 1999, most applicants awaiting appeals decisions from the Supreme Administrative Court relied on UNHCR support for accommodations and assistance.

Recognized refugees have the right to work, receive social assistance on the same terms as Polish citizens, and can apply for permanent residence permits after three years. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) indicate that refugees often experience difficulty in meeting the requirements for a permanent residence permit, such as steady employment and secure accommodations. Recognized refugees 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). According to UNHCR, DSA and local authorities have been slow to develop an assistance and integration program appropriate for recognized refugees, so many rely on UNHCR support.

During 1999, Poland participated in the PHARE Horizontal Program for Justice and Home Affairs. The project aims to bring Baltic and Central European countries' legislation and institutions in line with European Union (EU) standards and practices. In April, Polish government officials met with EU and UNHCR representatives to create a National Action Plan to address perceived gaps in the existing asylum system. In 1999, remaining "gaps" in Polish asylum law included the lack of a humanitarian status for asylum seekers who do not meet the Convention criteria but who nonetheless are in need of international protection, and the lack of a comprehensive integration plan for recognized refugees. The government has committed itself to rectifying these discrepancies by mid-2000.

Kosovo Crisis

Under the humanitarian evacuation program (HEP), 1,047 Kosovo Albanians arrived in Poland. The government granted evacuees temporary residence cards, valid for one year, which did not include permission to work. The government appointed the Polish Red Cross to assist the Kosovo Albanians.

Accommodated in reception centers, the Kosovo Albanians received food and a cash allowance equal to that given asylum seekers. By year's end, 748 Kosovo Albanians had repatriated.

The Polish authorities processed spontaneous arrivals from Kosovo in the normal procedure. In 1999, 128 Yugoslav citizens applied for asylum. During the year, Polish authorities issued 130 decisions (in both the first instance and at the appeals stage) on Yugoslav applications of which 2 persons received Convention status, 27 were denied, and 101 cases were closed.


As in much of Eastern Europe, the Roma in Poland face discrimination in housing and employment. In 1999, human rights groups reported "skinhead" attacks on the Roma. Several hundred Polish Roma sought asylum abroad in 1999, including 236 applicants in Finland alone. Few Western European governments grant Roma asylum, contending they are economic migrants, not refugees.

Poland as "Safe" Third Country

In December 1999, 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. However, Polish border guards may detain undocumented foreigners, including asylum seekers, although filing for asylum will suspend their deportation. In August 1998, Poland agreed to accept the return of unaccompanied minors from Germany. UNHCR reported that Polish authorities sometimes did not appoint a legal guardian once the unaccompanied minor arrived in Poland however. UNHCR recommended therefore that unaccompanied minors not be returned to Poland because there are no legal instruments to protect children's best interests.

In December, UNHCR again 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, allow them to enter a fair and effective determination procedure, and not detain them unjustifiably. In addition, UNHCR urged countries returning asylum seekers to inform claimants of their obligation to apply for refugee status upon entry.

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