United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1997 - Poland, 1 January 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8bc22.html [accessed 16 April 2014]
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During 1996, some 3,205 persons filed applications for asylum in Poland, a dramatic increase from the 843 claimants who requested asylum in 1995. During the year, the largest number of asylum seekers came from Sri Lanka (630), followed by Afghanistan (487), Iraq (359), Armenia (350), and Bangladesh (203). Of the 1,949 persons whose cases were considered during 1996, the overwhelming majority, some 75 percent (1,454 persons), were closed, primarily because the applicant abandoned the application. During the year, the Polish Ministry of Interior's Department for Migration and Refugee Affairs (DMRA) granted refugee status to 120 persons and denied the applications of 375 individuals. Discounting the large number of closed cases, this corresponds to a 24 percent approval rate. Nationals of Afghanistan, Bosnia, Somalia, and Sri Lanka enjoyed the highest approval rates (not considering closed cases) in 1996. At year's end, the applications of approximately 1,100 persons were pending. At the time Germany enacted historic reforms to its asylum law in July 1993, refugee advocates were particularly concerned with Poland's ability to cope with the large numbers of asylum seekers predicted to be returned from Germany on the basis of the German safe third country rule. The predictions of floods of rejected asylum seekers from Germany applying for asylum when returned to Poland did not hold true at the time. However, the number of persons requesting asylum on Poland's western border increased significantly during 1996 as the German-Polish border grew more difficult for insufficiently documented asylum seekers to cross. Applicants filing claims on Poland's western border with Germany accounted for 31 percent of all applications submitted in 1995, but during the first half of 1996, they accounted for about 65 percent. Nevertheless, the Polish government contends that the high number of abandoned applications during 1996 indicates that most asylum seekers only filed applications in Poland as a stop-gap measure to buy time in their attempts to reach points farther west. Delays in the determination procedure, coupled with limited prospects for integration for recognized refugees, have also been factors causing many asylum seekers to abandon their claims and leave Poland. Asylum Procedure Although the Polish parliament continued to debate and rework the provisions of a draft Aliens Law during 1996, no new legislation had been passed by year's end. All drafts have included comprehensive guidelines to regulate the asylum procedure. In the absence of new legislation, refugee matters continued to be governed by the old Aliens Law, as amended in September 1991, and the Administrative Procedure Code. Under current law, a person wishing to apply for refugee status in Poland may do so either at the border or with the DMRA in Warsaw. Border applicants must fill out an initial application, which the Polish Border Police then forward to the DMRA. According to the director of the Border Police, his agency plays no role in the asylum process other than to pass on asylum applications and refer applicants to the DMRA. Although there have been intermittent complaints during the past several years that Polish border guards have ignored some asylum requests, the low incidence of such reports in 1996 suggests that access to the asylum procedure at Poland's borders was relatively unproblematic. Obstacles to Asylum Nevertheless, during USCR's site visit to Poland in May 1996, humanitarian practitioners reported to USCR a pattern in which the DMRA has discouraged certain asylum applicants from applying in Poland without entering into a comprehensive review of their cases. According to representatives of UNHCR and the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights in Warsaw, the DMRA has informed certain would-be applicants, particularly those from Eastern European countries, that it would not be worth their while to apply for asylum in Poland. The DMRA has reportedly deterred others from filing asylum applications by telling them to return in several weeks. While not constituting outright denials of access to the asylum procedure, these obstacles have effectively blocked some would-be applicants from applying, UNHCR representatives said. Because access to social assistance at Polish refugee reception centers is linked to filing an asylum application, those who cannot file are also effectively barred from receiving any social assistance. Without food and shelter, their chances to remain in Warsaw to file an application at some later date are poor, UNHCR said. Even when a person does manage to lodge an asylum application with the DMRA, his or her referral to a refugee reception center is not automatic. Representatives of the DMRA reported that asylum seekers are not referred to a reception center if they can provide for themselves or if they present no valid claim to refugee status. Rather than stemming abuse of the asylum procedure, however, UNHCR reported that the DMRA referral policy has led to denial of social support, and thus the means to remain in Poland, for certain applicants, some with strong claims to refugee status. In practice, the DMRA's decision to refer an applicant appears to be based on the assumption of that person's approval or denial in the refugee determination procedure. Reports on the quality of the Polish status determination procedure were mixed in 1996. Although some humanitarian organizations reported that the quality of the case preparation and decision-making had steadily improved since 1992, they also said that it took too long for the DMRA to make status determinations. During 1996, the DMRA took on average six to nine months to issue first-instance decisions, which the DMRA itself conceded was too long given Poland's relatively small caseload. During the year, humanitarian organizations also criticized the DMRA for its policy of discontinuing accommodation and support for applicants after a denial in the first instance. Even more problematic, humanitarian practitioners charged, was the lack of an effective right to appeal. During 1996, the DMRA, responsible for making first-instance decisions, also continued to review appeals. Although asylum seekers may appeal negative decisions in the second instance to the High Administrative Court, very few had managed to do so as of May 1996. Significant barriers to integration for recognized refugees in Poland also remained during 1996. Recognized refugees receive permanent residence status, permission to work, and, under some circumstances, have access to limited social assistance. Despite several attempts since 1993, the Polish government has been unable to create an effective integration program to help refugees become self-sufficient. In May 1996, UNHCR estimated that of about 700 recognized refugees, only 200 to 400 remained in Poland. The rest had left, most presumably for Western Europe. Readmission Agreements Poland has concluded readmission agreements with Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Moldova, the Netherlands, Romania, Slovakia, and Ukraine. These agreements address issues solely related to the return of nationals of the contracting state and third-country nationals who enter a contracting state illegally. In November 1995, UNHCR recommended that other countries only return asylum seekers to Poland if the Polish authorities explicitly agree to readmit the asylum seekers in question and allow them to enter a fair and effective determination procedure.