At the end of 2003, Poland hosted over 1,500 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included 20 recognized refugees and 1,500 asylum seekers awaiting an initial decision.

Around 920 Polish nationals, mostly ethnic Roma, sought asylum abroad during the year.

During the year, Poland received over 6,900 applications for asylum, 25 percent more than in 2002. The largest numbers came from Russia (5,600), Afghanistan (250), India (240), and Pakistan (150). Poland is the second-most popular destination for asylum seekers from Russia.

The Office for Repatriation and Aliens (ORA) made decisions on 3,300 claims during 2003, granting asylum to 220 persons, an approval rate of about 7 percent, up from 5 percent in 2002. Nationals of Russia (mostly Chechens) accounted for most of the approvals. The ORA also granted 23 persons "tolerated stay" on humanitarian grounds and denied the applications of about 3,100 applicants. Some 730 asylum seekers appealed denials to the Refugee Board during the year, of whom 10 were granted asylum.

The ORA closed 4,600 cases during the year because the applicants had abandoned their claims, a tenfold increase on 2002. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) claimed the rise in abandoned claims was due to Chechen asylum seekers who, finding it difficult to integrate into Polish society, went to the Czech Republic and further west in Europe.

In December UNHCR successfully intervened with the Polish government on behalf of several dozen Chechen asylum seekers who claimed they had been denied entry to Poland.

New Developments

In September, Poland passed the Act on Aliens and the Act on Granting Protection to Aliens (Aliens Protection Act), both replacing the 1997 Aliens law, as amended in July 2001.

The Aliens Protection Act introduced a new form of subsidiary protection, "tolerated stay," for asylum applicants whose claims do not meet the refugee definition, but who, if returned to their country of origin, could face threats to their life, freedom, or safety or may suffer torture or other inhuman or degrading treatment. ORA may also grant such status to applicants who cannot be returned to their country of origin for practical reasons. Applicants who receive tolerated status receive a one-year residence permit.

The act introduced pre-screening detention of asylum seekers arriving in Poland without proper documentation with exceptions for unaccompanied children seeking asylum, people with disabilities, and victims of violence suffering psychological problems from this provision. The law grants nongovernmental organizations free access to such detained asylum seekers but not legal assistance.

The law also mandated appointment of a custodian for every child throughout the status determination procedure.


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