sty12x18 Migration
sty12x18 Asylum

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1. Migration

The geographical position of Poland between the western edge of the former Soviet Union and the affluent West makes it a busy transit area, used both by economic migrants and asylum seekers. Subsequently, however, it has begun closing up its borders but nevertheless remains an important transit country.

Illegal migration and trafficking in human beings

With 1,300 km, Poland has the longest border with the former Soviet Republics, namely Russia (Kaliningrad), Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine.

It is estimated that up to about 15,000 people illegally cross the territory of Poland 123 every year. Two main transit routes lead through the country. The 'Balkan trail' is used by Romanians, Bulgarians and citizens from former Yugoslavia who enter legally because regulations allow a one-month stay without a visa. They then try to cross into Germany illegally. Strong cooperation between German and Polish border guards is now discouraging many illegal travellers. The second emigration trail via Poland runs from the Lithuanian border to Germany. This route, mainly used by Asians, is dominated by citizens from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka 124. The number of illegal migrants caught at this border has almost doubled since 1996. The smuggling of people across this eastern border is apparently constantly rising, is increasingly better organized and seems to be linked to the opening of the Russia-Belarus border, which means there is no control.

Those organizing such smuggling operations create networks of couriers and guides, and their profits are comparable to the profits of drug traffickers. For leading a group into Germany, a courier network charges from 2,000 US$ to 5,000 US$ per person. In countries such as Afghanistan and India, whole families often pitch in to send one of their members to the West, hoping that this person will then bring over the rest of the family.

It is increasingly less common for immigrants to try their luck crossing Poland illegally on an individual basis, in car boots or by hiding on trains 125.


Main regions of origin of illegal immigrants from 1993 to 1995













Asia, Africa

6,087 (India: 1,281)

Source: Ministry of Internal Affairs, Poland, June 1996

Estimates concerning the number of foreigners staying and often working in Poland illegally vary from between 50,000 to 200,000 126.

Border controls

The conclusion of new bilateral agreements plays an important role in the improvement of cooperation in the fight against border-related criminality. Measures aimed at the rationalization of expulsion, such as deportation by plane and preparations for the creation of detention centres, have been implemented. The equipment of the Border Guards, including a helicopter protection system, new control stations, computers and additional transport facilities, has been improved, particularly with assistance from Germany. Poland takes part in the PHARE programme for a further tightening of the eastern border and the development of a more efficient information and communication system. The coordination of border controls has become more efficient.

Readmission agreements

Poland has signed a readmission agreement with the Schengen States and bilateral readmission agreements with the following countries: Germany, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Romania, the Slovak Republic, Ukraine, Croatia, Moldova, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Slovenia, Austria, Switzerland and Sweden. Transfer of people between Poland and Russia or Belarus are dealt with on the Polish-CIS border under the Act on Legal Relations.

The readmission agreement of March 1991 between Poland and the Schengen States includes an obligation by the States to readmit third country nationals and stateless people who have crossed the common external border and stayed in the territory of one of these States illegally.

In practice, the agreement between the Schengen States and Poland has not reduced migration, in particular into Germany. In May 1993, therefore, Germany and Poland signed a bilateral modification of the agreement with the Schengen States. As a result, Poland is obliged to accept asylum seekers whose applications have been rejected by the German authorities, as well as migrants from the Schengen States. Since the modification, from 1993 to 1997, 18,000 people have been readmitted 127. Returned asylum seekers from Germany are informed of the possibility of applying for asylum in Poland as stipulated in a special agreement between the Ministers of the Interior of both countries. Many asylum seekers do not wish to apply 128.

The readmission agreement signed between Poland and Lithuania (July 1998) specifically stipulates, in respect to its Article 3, that persons 'who are subject to refugee status application procedures on the territory of the State of the Requesting Party' will fall within the scope of persons to be returned under the readmission agreement. UNHCR is seriously concerned that the clause will facilitate the automatic return of asylum seekers to Lithuania without due consideration for the safety of the asylum seeker from refoulement, or the possibility of his/her entering the status determination procedures in Lithuania 129.

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2. Asylum

In 1989, the first group of asylum seekers, mostly from the Middle East and Africa, arrived in Poland.

Although tens of thousands of people transit Poland annually, refugee numbers have until now been limited and there are currently only an estimated 800 refugees of various nationalities, including 300 Bosnians. In the last two years, however, there has been a sharp increase in the number of asylum seekers, a number which quadrupled between 1995 and 1997.


Asylum applications in Poland











In 1994, nearly two-thirds of the applicants were granted refugee status . In 1995, only one in eight asylum seekers was granted Convention status. In 1996, contrary to the increase in the number of applications, the number of positive decisions by the First Instance was only 120 130.

The situation in Poland, as elsewhere in Central Europe, is complicated by the fact that many asylum seekers, including those returned from Western countries, and particularly from Germany, through the application of readmission agreements, do not necessarily wish to apply for asylum in Poland. Often they lodge an application for refugee status only when they are confronted with the possibility of deportation; many of them do not pursue the procedure 131.


Main countries of origin of asylum seekers in numbers




Sri Lanka



Afghanistan 132












Iraq 133






Source: UNHCR Warsaw, February 1998


Procedure and legal basis

On 27 September 1991, Poland acceded to the 1951 Geneva Convention and its 1967 Protocol.

The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms was ratified on 19 January 1993. National legislation concerning refugees is mainly contained in the Aliens Act. The UNHCR submitted extensive comments on the draft and on several occasions has been invited to present its opinions to the Parliamentary bodies responsible for its review. Many, but not all of the concerns raised by UNHCR as to the compatibility of the draft with international standards, were taken into account in the final version of the Aliens Act 134, which entered into force at the end of 1997. The law introduced a number of restrictive measures, such as those concerning 'manifestly unfounded claims'.

The application for granting refugee status should be lodged at entry onto Polish territory, unless the alien has justifiable fear for his/her life or health, in which case the application should be lodged within 14 days. An asylum seeker arriving in Poland illegally must lodge the application immediately.

The asylum seeker receives a residence visa from the Minister of the Interior and Administration if the procedures for granting refugee status are initiated (Article 39 of the Aliens Act). According to Article 41 of the said Act, the decision should be taken within three months. Each asylum seeker may freely contact the representative of UNHCR (Article 49). As a Second Instance, the 'Council for Refugees', an appeal body which will examine decisions taken by the Ministry of the Interior, will be established as of January 1999, and will be situated outside the organizational framework of the Ministry of the Interior (Article 69). Asylum seekers may also appeal to the Supreme Court after exhausting all other remedies.

Employment without the required permission, illicit border crossing, lack of documents or staying illegally on Polish territory may lead to expulsion or detention. Referral to a detention centre does not exclude the possibility of applying for refugee status.

Asylum seekers who are admitted into the procedure are granted residence visas and are permitted to stay in a refugee centre which provides full board and medical care. At the moment, there are five refugee centres in Poland: D "bak (118 asylum seekers), Lomza (40), Lukow (60), Lublin (103) and Smoszewo (60) 135.

Convention status

Recognized refugees can be employed or self-employed. Unemployed refugees are eligible for benefits provided that, during the 18 months' period prior to registration, they were employed and obtained remuneration in the amount of at least the minimum official rate for a total of at least 365 days. Their children can attend primary or high school for free. Housing remains the biggest problem, as well as employment and access to social assistance. Responsibility for the care and maintenance of recognized refugees was recently transferred from the Ministry of the Interior to the Ministry of Labour. The Ministry of the Interior financed and implemented a programme of support for recognized refugees in 1996 and 1997. The Ministry of Labour, however, has not yet systematically started providing assistance to recognized refugees through local government offices. Through most of 1998, newly recognized refugees relied solely on material assistance provided by UNHCR for their livelihood. Recently, the social assistance system has begun to provide moderate social benefits to newly recognized refugees. UNHCR is working closely with the Ministry of Labour to help initiate integration-related programmes and strategies.

The role of UNHCR

Initially UNHCR worked with the government to help set up the first centers for refugees and asylum seekers ans establish determination procedures. It also funded early integration programs before the introduction of the current government scheme. As refugee officials acquired more experience, UNHCR shifted its focus to other institutions dealing with asylum seekers and refugees, such as the border guards, police, social workers, NGOS and legal associations.

Main difficulties

Controlling borders is still a major issue and trafficking in human beings continues to grow.

As regards the return of asylum seekers to Poland, whether under a readmission agreement or other bilateral arrangements, UNHCR recommends that assurances should be received that asylum seekers whose claims have not yet been examined will have access to the refugee status determination procedure in Poland. If they come to Poland from Lithuania, they should not be returned to Lithuania without the assurance that they will be granted access to the asylum procedure there.

In addition, governments implementing returns should receive formal assurances that returned asylum seekers will not be detained unjustifiably. Returning countries should inform asylum seekers of their right to apply for refugee status in Poland 136.

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123. Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, 'Asylum and Migration in Poland', answer to the questionnaire of DG IV, July 1996

124. Piotr Dukaczewski, 'Refugees Rising', Voice-Society, 23 June 1996, p.16

125. Major Jaroslaw Zukowicz, spokesman for the National Border Guard Headquarters, in Voice, June 1996

126. PAP News Agency, Warsaw, 18 June 1996

127. Safe third country, Danish Refugee Council, 1997

128. UNHCR, Background information on the situation in Poland in the context of the return of asylum seekers, November 1998

129. UNHCR, Background information on the situation in Poland in the context of the return of asylum seekers, November 1998

130. Ministry of the Interior and Administration, Department for Migration and Refugee Affairs, September 1997

131. UNHCR Warsaw, Background information on the situation in Poland in the context of the 'safe third country' concept, first update, June 1997

132. 489 according to information from the Ministry of the Interior and Administration, Department for Migration and Refugee Affairs, Maciej Kuczynski, Deputy Director, August 1998

133. 359 according to information from the Ministry of the Interior and Administration, Department for Migration and Refugee Affairs, Maciej Kuczynski, August 1998

134. UNHCR Warsaw, Background information on the situation in Poland in the context of the 'safe third country' concept, first update, June 1997

135. Ministry of the Interior and Administration, Department for Migration and Refugee Affairs, August 1997

136. UNHCR, Background information on the situation in Poland in the context of the return of asylum seekers, November 1998

© European Parliament: February 1999