Human Rights Watch recently published an article on denial of entry to Poland of asylum seekers from the East. While the principle focus of the Polish refugee admittance system has been the influx of asylum seekers arriving in Europe from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia, to name a few — on its Eastern border a quiet crisis has been unfolding for over a year now. Clustered on the Belarusian border with the EU country, asylum seekers have travelled from Tajikistan, Russia’s Chechen Republic, and Georgia to claim refugee status.
However, they have been continually rebuffed and denied entry to the country, based on short interviews with border guard officials, who do not have the authority under the Polish system to review asylum claims. Under international law, asylum seekers are to be granted admission to the country until such a time that their case is fully reviewed. Instead, asylum seekers (predominantly fleeing political, religious, or conflict-related persecution in their countries of origin, warranting protection under the 1951 convention) are returned to Belarus, where they are reported to stay and continually try their luck with border guards.
“Belarus has provisions in law for an asylum system, but in practice it does not offer meaningful protection. Tajiks, many of whom have experienced abuse in Tajikistan and fear deportation or harassment from Tajik security forces in Russia, cannot get effective protection in Belarus, which views Russia as a safe third country. Chechens also risk being sent back to Russia in spite of their fear of abuse there from the authorities of Russia’s Chechen republic.”
In the case of Chechens, Poland has deemed these asylum seekers to be security threats, and others to be “economic migrants”, though HRW found that those interviewed cited real and credible threats to their person and families. Polish border guards are holding short, arbitrary interviews to determine whether or not they are deserving of protection, but most interviewees felt the decision was already made before they were able to present their case. In the case of one Chechen woman:
“I say, look at me and my children. We are afraid to go back. Security people in Chechnya beat my oldest son so badly he couldn’t walk for a week. They [Polish officials] look and say nothing, just tell us to go and wait. Once, the man [Polish official] we spoke to said: “Go to Kyrgyzstan, go to Turkey. Poland doesn’t want you.” Another time a man [Polish official] just said “no visa – no entry.””
This speaks to a larger issue of asylum procedures in Poland regarding refugees from states in the former Soviet Union. With extremely high freedom of movement between countries (with the notable exception of Turkmenistan), Tajiks, Russians, and Georgians are all able to travel and live in other parts of the FSU with relative ease. That being said, this does not constitute protection or diminish their rights as asylum seekers. There is a high risk for refoulement, which many cited as a reason for seeking asylum in the EU. The article also outlines the lack of protection measures in Belarus, where risk of extradition to Russia for Chechens and Tajiks (who may then be summarily returned to Tajikistan and persecuted) is high. I highly recommend reading the article, found here, as well as this 2016 article on the topic by Yan Matusevich in The Diplomat.