Summary of the national legislation on refugees
The presence of foreign immigrants was a common feature of Polish society even in the Middle Ages. As early as the 11th or 12th century Jews arrived in Poland, and around the 15th century Roma and Armenians started settling in Poland. By the late 18th century the country was inhabited by Polish, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Tatars, Jews and Roma; it was famous for its hospitality and tolerance. It offered the newcomers equal rights, religious freedom, and traditionally welcomed the victims of religious persecutions in Western Europe, such as Jews from Germany, France or Spain, French Huguenots, or Mennonites. The newcomers have always had a strong and lasting impact on Polish society.
In the years of isolation and stagnation imposed by the communist rule, Poland experienced little new immigration. In the years after the overthrow of the communist regime in 1989, in which the Roman Catholic Church also played a major role, Poland began to host more voluntary and compulsory immigrants. Their number has been steadily growing due to further stabilisation of the Polish economy and the 2004 EU membership.
In a 2011 Census, 96% of population of Poland (38.572 million) declared Polish nationality and 97.9% declared to speak Polish at home. Other ethnic groups are primarily Germans- 0.5% (211.000), Ukrainian and Belarusian- 0.4% (149.000). Additionally there are Vietnamese and Chechens- 0.1% (29.000) plus the population of mixed or unspecified background 1.4% (512.000)
In 2011, 87.5% of the Polish population declared to be of the Roman Catholic religion, while only 65% said to attend services regularly. Other religious groups in Poland, such as, Eastern Orthodox, the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession, Jehovah’s Witnesses or Greek Catholics, are relatively small. The worshippers of Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism put together, constitute less than 1% of Polish population.
Significantly, since 2004, a vast number of Polish people have emigrated for work (they are among best educated emigrants), with an estimated 2.3 million Poles living abroad at the end of 2014, the majority of them in other EU countries.
Despite the steadily increasing number of immigrants with permanent residency in Poland, and the opening up of the labour market to foreign workers, the report Energy for Europe recommends that an increasingly depopulated Poland needs 5.2 million immigrants by 2050 in order to develop further.
The national acts of legislation on foreigners are:
- The Act on Granting Protection to Aliens, from 13 June 2003
- The Act on Foreigners, from 12 December 2013, updated 1 May 2014
- The Act on Social Assistance, from 12 March 2004
- The Act on job market institutions and employment promotion, from 20 April 2004
In reference to refugees, Poland adheres to the decisions of the Geneva Convention.
The UNHCR Office was set up in Poland in 1992 after the country’s accession to the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol. The UNHCR has been giving support in establishing structures necessary to cope with the responsibilities, as a new EU member state, in handling matters regarding immigrants. The organisation is also actively supervising the compliance with the rights of asylum seekers in Poland, and monitors their access to their statutory rights.
Following the accession to European Union in 2004, Poland is bound by the European Directive 2004/38EC regarding the freedom of movement within the EU, which also applies to the citizens of the EEA (European Economic Area), including Norway, Liechtenstein and Norway.
According to the 2003 act on granting protection to aliens, an alien on the territory of the Republic of Poland may be granted protection in one of the following forms:
1) the refugee status;
3) the permit for tolerated stay;
4) temporary protection
A foreigner may be granted a residence permit due to humanitarian reasons, a permission for tolerated stay or temporary protection is granted if a return to his/her country of origin would cause the foreigner’s right to life, freedom and personal security to be threatened. Examples of such cases are: torture or inhuman or humiliating treatment or punishment, forced labour, no access to the right of fair court proceedings or punishment without legal grounds.
Additionally, a residence permit due to humanitarian reasons is granted if obliging the foreigner to return would violate his/her right to family or private life or violate the rights of a child.
A foreigner may be granted a refugee status, if, due to a justified fear that he/she might be persecuted in his/her country of origin for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership of a particular social group or if he/she does not wish to use his/her country’s protection.
The refugee status is also granted to a minor child of a foreigner who has been granted refugee status in the Republic of Poland or is born within this territory.
A foreigner may be granted subsidiary protection if returning to the country of origin may put him/her at real risk of suffering serious harm due to:
- a death sentence or an execution to be carried out,
- torture, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment,
- a serious and individualised life or health hazard as a result of common use of violence towards civilians in a situation of an international or internal military conflict, and due to this risk the foreigner may not or does not wish to return to the country of origin.
Applications for international protection are in the first instance examined by the Head of the Office for Foreigners.
The 2013 Act on Foreigners lays down the principles and conditions governing entry into, transit through, residence on and departure from the territory of the Republic of Poland as they apply to foreigners, as well as the procedures and the authorities competent in these matters.
Foreigners coming to Poland from within the EU have equal access to public institutions as natives. For foreigners coming from outside the EU, access to legal residency, job market, education, health insurance is restricted. Visas/cards of stay are required to enter the country. A visa can be prolonged on the territory of Poland by obtaining Residency Card.
There are several visa types; Transit Visa A (for travelling), Schengen Visa C for up to 90 days and an Individual Country Visa D for long term stay from 3 months up to a year. Foreigners seeking asylum or naturalisation in Poland should apply for visa D.
A visa can be withdrawn (among other reasons) if the foreigner could be considered a threat to security or national interests.
In the 2014 the (former) Polish government recognised the need to welcome immigrants in Poland by improving conditions of stay, work and studying for foreigners. In the 2014 update of the legislation on foreigners, the maximum period of temporary stay was prolonged from 2 to 3 years. The application for the prolongation of stay can be filed at any moment of the legal stay. Steps have also been taken to simplify the procedures for legalisation of stay; for example, one procedure will cover applications for both the stay permit and the work permit (previously, two separate permits had to be applied for). Foreign students will get a 3 year stay permit, instead of 1 year, to be prolonged further etc.
In October 2015 the Polish citizens elected a new government, formed by the majority right wing party Law and Justice (PiS), which openly manifests Euroscepticism and hostility towards immigrants.
In a direct response to the intensifying migrant crisis in Europe and deteriorating conditions in Ukraine (warfare in Crimea), in February 2016 the government announced a formation of a special Ministerial Security Team. Its purpose is monitoring of the process of relocation and resettlement of refugees within the territory of Poland, with special attention to detecting threats to national security, defence and public order.
Another new piece of legislation, from April 1st 2016 (not a joke, sadly) is the act on the immigration policy in which Polish parliament defies the European Council decision from 22 September 2015 about relocation of refugees and the support given by the former Polish government to this European project (which went against the views of the remaining Visegrad Four countries, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary). The parliament is strongly against imposing any mechanisms of immigrant relocation by the European Union and insists that the decisions on the national immigration or refugee policies should be made by the Polish government alone.
In practice it means the rejection of the immigrant quotas planned by the EU, by Poland but also by another 10 EU countries, including the UK and Austria.
Refugee life in Poland
People looking for international protection in Poland come mainly from across the eastern border.
In recent years refugee status was granted to about 200 people a year (from 2007 to August 2015 to 1472 people). Poland accepted mainly refugees from Russia (558), Syria (336), Belarus (145), Iraq (83) and Afghanistan (63). In this period 83.5 thousand applications for refugee status were made. 53 thousand of them were filed by Chechens. Half of the applications were women- the highest number in whole EU. 59.9 thousand cases were discontinued, because the applicants left before the decision was made. 22 thousand people were denied international protection.
In 2016, by June, the head of the Office for Foreigners issued 4 thousand decisions: protection was given to 82 people. 38 refugee statuses were granted to Syrians, Egyptians, Chinese, Ugandans and Iraqis. Subsidiary protection was granted to 36 applicants from Russia, Ukraine, Iraq and Syria. Tolerated stay was granted to 6 applicants- 2 from Russia, 2 from Belarus, 1 from Pakistan and 1 from Ukraine.
Most applications in 2016 (79%) were received by the checkpoint in Terespol (Poland -Belarus border). Majority of the applicants were women and minors of Chechen nationality and they were mainly first time applications. 746 of all applicants received a negative decision, 3.3 thousand cases were discontinued.
Whether the foreigner qualifies for a refugee status or for subsidiary protection is decided upon during the same proceeding by the Office for Foreigners.
One procedure applies to both categories of refugees. The category of protected foreigners has the same rights: they are granted permission to stay, receive social benefits, they can work, and bring their family to Poland. The only difference is that a refugee gets a Geneva travel document and a protected foreigner must use his own documents or apply for a Polish travel document.
So far, the attempts to support the integration of foreigners into Polish society were aimed only at those with legal refugee status or subsidiary protection, however, even this system of support and integration seems to be inadequate.
There are 14 refugee centres per 16 districts of Poland, 5 of them located in Lubelskie district (near the eastern border). In Sept 2015 there were 431 places reported, already 1549 people accommodated, and new, emergency places could be created. In 2014 up to 30 thousand places were prepared for refugees from Donbas, in the case of war.
People who apply for international protection can find accommodation and social protection in refugee centres, or apply for private accommodation and claim social benefits outside the centre, during the waiting period, until the decision regarding their status is made.
The support given in the refugee centres covers three meals a day, pocket money, Polish language lessons, school supplies for children, cost of after-school activities for children and one- time payment for clothes and shoes.
However, some refugees wait 6 months or longer for the decision regarding their future (average time is 14 months) and during this time they are not allowed to work – they spend their time doing nothing. They often feel uncertain, helpless and alienated in new, unfamiliar circumstances, or traumatised after often horrific experiences at their home country and exhausted with the arduous and long journey.
The structure of the refugee centres can also contribute to their frustration – people only have minimum privacy. Families stay in separate rooms but share kitchen facilities and toilets. The location of refugee centres on the outskirts of towns or in forests can increase the sense of isolation, separating the newcomers from local communities so they have little chance to practice the language, build relationships with locals or access the local job market. Such a situation is also likely to create suspicion towards the refugees in local communities.
If refugees choose to live outside the centre while awaiting the decision, they need to find accommodation. The support to do so is provided to them in the form of a monthly payment which is to cover the cost of independent living and accommodation. In 2015 the payment was 750 Zlotys per month (about 174 Euros) per person, but the bigger the family, the lower the quota per capita. A three-person family could get 1350 Zlotys (about 312 Euros) a month.
After the international protection is granted, they have 2 months to leave the centre, also the out-of-centre support stops after two months.
During the next phase the so-called Individual Integration Programmes (IPI) start, run by local Family Support Centres. This kind of support is available for up to 12 months and includes financial support of 1353 Zlotys (about 313 Euros) a month per person for the first 6 months and then 1200 Zlotys (about 277 Euros), to cover the costs of living (food, rent, clothes, shoes, hygiene products), costs of learning Polish, health insurance contribution, and specialist counselling – including legal, psychological or family counselling. IPI should also provide information about useful institutions and facilitate contact with them, in particular, job market organisations, community centres and NGOs. During these 12 months a refugee is expected to integrate in the community: rent an apartment, find a job, learn the language. After that, they are expected to stand on their own feet as no more support is provided.
However, renting an apartment in a free market and living of the money offered by the IPI is practically impossible. Both social and NGO workers agree, that 1 year is not enough for integration, especially for refugees from very distant cultures, also learning the Polish language is rather difficult, not to mention difficulties accessing jobs and adequate accommodation. To compare, in Scandinavian countries the integration programmes last 3 years and are more effective.
Although it is called Individual Integration Programme, IPI is not tailored to the individual needs of refugees, mainly due to the chronic shortages in personnel and funds (the same problem affects the Polish social support system in general). Often the IPI ends up doing nothing more than just give out the little financial support to refugees.
The numerous non-governmental immigrant supporting organisations and church-funded organisations run by volunteers actively support the refugee integration system, taking an active part in promoting integration in the community, encouraging social debates on foreigners, organising public fundraisers and language courses etc. Many of the migrant- assisting organisations have their main offices in Warsaw, the Mazovian district (voivodeship).
The Office for Foreigners provides social and medical care to the immigrants and also to the applicants who await the decision regarding their status. (Free healthcare is available to all citizens in Poland, although specialist public health care may be inefficient)
Applying for communal accommodation is a long process. Refugees are entitled to this, just like Poles, but they often cannot meet the criteria or are discriminated against in the process. The additional pool of few apartments is available for refugees in some cities, for example Warsaw and Lublin, but that is not enough. As a result, 5-10 % of legal refugees in Poland ended up homeless in 2012, and 30-40% spent some time in emergency accommodation centres (which are also scarce), according to research by the Institute of Social Affairs and UNHCR. Only every fifth of all refugees lived in adequate accommodation in 2012. Apart from financial difficulties, they often experience discrimination by the private landlords.
In terms of education, children of refugees can access school for free, just like Polish children, up to and including the second level (primary schooling is compulsory).
Foreign children are less of a novelty in Polish schools these days. The schools, however, are not well prepared or equipped to cope with their specific needs – the number of teachers qualified to teach Polish as a foreign language is insufficient, there are no cultural assistants, and there’s lack of didactic materials for foreigners. There is no adaptation period, during which the child could learn the language and catch up with the material studied so far. Foreign children must go to a mainstream Polish classroom straight away. They get 2 extra hours Polish language classes and 3 hours extra classes in other subjects a week, but these must be attended on top of the mainstream classes, from which they do not learn much, as they do not know Polish.
Research from 2015 shows that 67% of Polish employers would gladly give jobs to foreigners from different cultures, but this research does not consider the difference between economic migrants and refugees.
Foreigners in Poland are employed either as highly skilled professionals – managers or experts in finances, insurance, property dealing etc (mainly EU citizens), or as the unskilled workforce in farming, trade, domestic services, gastronomy, construction (mainly Ukrainians).
The Polish job market has become more open to foreign workers in recent years. The new legislation from 2011 allows the citizens of neighbouring countries (Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, Moldova and Georgia) to work in Poland legally without a work permit.
Applicants for international protection can work if the decision regarding their status takes longer than 6 months, they do not need a work permit to do so. Also, spouses and family members of a refugee who was granted asylum or subsidiary protection can work in the same jobs as Poles (with exception of judge or prosecutor).
However, their rights are not fully protected, as often they are discriminated against, for example being offered only short-term contracts which do not cover health insurance, holidays or pension contributions – so called casual work contracts (in fact, many Poles have no choice but work on casual contracts too).
Many foreigners come to Poland without work qualifications or with skills which are not in demand here. A large number of women refugees are used to work only at home, and now need to find employment in the job market. All this is a big challenge, as the Polish job system does not provide any courses or training aimed at refugees, men or women, who need to qualify or re-qualify, in order to be able to work. Despite the fact that in some sectors of the Polish job market, depleted by the economic emigration, work is available, there has been no survey or research carried out which would show actual employment demands and job options in particular sectors. Such research is needed to inform a comprehensive system of vocational training and professional activation. This situation is despite the fact that the Office for Foreigners has received 45.4 million Zlotys (over 10.5 million Euros) specifically for creating such a system. The local authorities seem to ignore refugees living in their localities and employers are not encouraged to give them jobs. They are not seen as potential workers, or even as permanent community members.
In sectors like farming, trade, domestic services, gastronomy or construction there are hardly any Polish workers, due to the hardship and low wages. Refugees with little or no skills would be more likely to be employed here.
In the spring of 2016 the government introduced the new social benefits Family 500 Plus Programme, granting families 500 Zlotys (115 Euros) per child per month. Immigrants are legally entitled to this benefit, however, in reality, they do not get it. The reason is of bureaucratic nature – lack of the “job market access granted” note on their permit cards. This obstacle can be easily removed, however, the central government and the local authorities shift responsibility and the problem remains unsolved.
Apparently, even now, as the immigration to Europe has so strongly intensified, the refugees in search for better a future tend to choose western European countries, knowing that the standard of life in Poland is still somewhat lower than in other EU countries. Hugely discouraging for them is also the fact that so many Poles themselves emigrate to western Europe, and that the majority of asylum applications coming in annually are discontinued (85% in 2013). Many immigrants choose the Czech Republic instead, where religion plays a much less important role in society and the life standard is higher. Asian refugees have reasons to complain – their trip to the west is extremely costly and they have specific expectations, which Polish reality usually cannot realise, at least for the first few years after the arrival. Azad Nouri from Iraq is openly disappointed with the treatment he received. “I heard tales about Polish hospitality (…) but now I am feeling deceived. Even though I am a well-educated tradesman and speak good English I had to go through the bureaucratic hell, before I was given a chance to start any honest work” (…) “One employer told me it would be hard, because I may be taken for a Gypsy, and this is not good here”
Dr Maciej Duszczyk, the leader in the Centre for Migration Research from Warsaw University admits that there is no suitable infrastructure for refugees in Poland or a comprehensive plan of integration, therefore, no fit conditions exist to accept them. “People are not pieces – we can relocate them, but we cannot make them stay”. Without right provisions they will leave, most likely for Germany – even if that means losing their chance for legal residency later. A few Syrians who arrived in Poland mid-2015 did just that. “Those people have their plans, hopes and dreams, look for a safe place to live. You cannot restrain them, this would bring nothing good”, he said. Instead, the Polish government should start working hard on creating the basis for solid pro-immigration policy.
According to the 2015 research on the attitudes to foreigners run by IPSOS for IOM (International Organisation for Migration), 38% of respondents who previously met foreigners think the impact of foreigners on the Polish economy and job market is positive, 37% think it is negative. 55% of respondents claim that Arabs pose a threat to the security of Poland and 35%,that Ukrainians do. Interestingly, respondents overestimate foreigners’ participation in Polish society – majority claims it is about 10%, while in reality, it is only 1%. The majority of the respondents to this survey were 59 years or older, 34% with second level education, 39% of them living in the countryside, and 54% were employed, getting full average wages. 48% of them were men and 52% women.
The governmental policy towards the current wave of refugees has totally changed within the past year, because a new government came to power in October 2015.
In September 2015 Polish government (liberal- democratic party Civic Platform- PO) stood against the remaining Visingard Three countries and agreed on accepting about 7000 refugees. For that purpose, Poland was promised financial support from the EU- 10 000 Euro per each refugee from the Middle East and 6000 per a refugee from camps in Italy and Greece. The opposition, represented by the right-wing conservative party Law and Justice (PiS) rejected that plan, saying that accepting refugees will have a negative impact on quality of life, freedom and safety in Poland. By accepting refugees without the consent of the Polish people, the government would violate the constitution. PiS party came to power one month later.
Before and during the parliamentary elections of October 2015 the refugee issue became the element of a bitter and dirty election campaign:
On 13 August 2015 Gazeta Wyborcza reported that “PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, during an election rally compared the immigrants to a disease which has paralysed Europe” which, if we let it, may also infect us.
In January 2016 new PM Beata Szydlo (PiS) declared that for the moment Poland was willing to accept no more than 100 refugees.
PiS party members, who now rule the country, also openly sympathise with the ONR (Radical Nationalist Camp) and the Polish Youth. They interpret and promote nationalism as a patriotic virtue and tolerate hatred-inciting behaviour towards foreigners, Jews and refugees, which happens during many legal public marches and demonstrations. The Police response to those offences is threateningly complacent.
In autumn-winter 2015, as Poland, and other European countries, were considering taking in small quotas of immigrants, a wave of immigration-related manifestations took place in cities like Warsaw (the capital city), Krakow (second-largest city), Olecko (North- East). In Wroclaw, third largest city, two demonstrations took place the same day. About 300 people marched in favour of immigrants chanting “Immigrants Welcome!”, whereas the anti-immigration demonstration chanted “f… the Arabs” and “repatriation, not immigration!”, which referred to the Ukrainians.
In March 2016 Polish government firmly denied entry to the Syrian and other refugees “because terrorists and Islamic state veterans may be among them”.
They refused to accept even the 100 refugees from Italy and Greece they had previously agreed to take.
The bomb attacks in Paris and attacks on women in Germany only increased the hostility towards refugees among Polish people and politicians.
In June 2016 The Institute of Social Affairs and the Information Bureau of the European Parliament organised a debate entitled “Migrations/Rights/Reactions. What integration policy is needed in Poland and Europe”. Experts, publicists and community activists took part in the debate.
Also in June, Polish bishops, with support from Pope Francis, agreed upon creating a humanitarian corridor for refugees to Poland. It was supposed to be organised by Caritas, a catholic humanitarian organisation, which already supports refugees in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.
(Anna Ziembicka – Dzido, lecture We Differ Beautifully)
Professor Jozef Czapinski in Nawet Uchodzcy nie chca mieszkac w Polsce- natemat.pl
Gazeta Wyborcza, August 2016
The legal process
A person intending to lodge an application for international protection (applicant) to the Head of the Office for Foreigners must report to a competent Border Guard authority. If the application is to concern other individuals as well (such as minor children, the applicant’s spouse), these persons also need to be present during the submission of the application.
In case of unaccompanied minors, an application for international protection should be lodged by the guardian or a representative of an international organization or NGO providing assistance to the foreigners, including legal assistance, when on the basis of individual assessment of the unaccompanied minor’s situation, the organization decides that he or she is in need of such protection.
Each adult will be informed in writing, in a language he or she understands, of the rules of the international protection procedure, as well as of their rights and obligations arising from the submission of the application.
In the case of people who are disabled, senior, as well as single parents and pregnant women, the Border Guard ensures the transportation to the reception centre, and in justified cases also a meal during the transportation.
When the application is accepted, the procedure of examining the application is initiated. Each adult receives a document – a temporary certificate of foreigner’s identity, which confirms the person’s identity and authorises the person and minor children whose data are included in the certificate to reside in the territory of the Republic of Poland.
The person who has submitted the application for international protection may be detained and then placed in a detention centre or a deportation detention centre for a period of 60 days.
Any decisions regarding this matter will be issued by a court. The period of stay in a centre may be extended. An early release of the detainee is also possible.
Individuals who are not subject to detention when their application is being processed would receive social assistance and medical care, guaranteed by the Head of the Office for Foreigners (social assistance is also available – see Protection of refugees).
Since 2011, to simplify the residency legalisation procedure, costs or the legal rights to accommodation are no longer relevant for the application, simply providing a reliable accommodation address is sufficient to apply. Also, the temporary residency permit can now be granted for up to 2-3 years in one application.
Interviewing the applicant is an important moment in the international protection procedure. The aim of the interview is to clarify the facts of relevance to the case, as well as presenting additional explanations concerning discrepancies and contradictions in applicant’s declarations. After the interview, the foreigner receives a copy of the interview report.
The applicants will not be interviewed if:
-it is possible to issue a decision on granting refugee status based on the evidence gathered, they are not able to participate in the interview due to their health condition or for psychological reasons within the first 6 months of the duration of the procedure.
-the interview is carried out without the people on behalf of whom the applicant is acting unless their presence is necessary to clarify the case. The interview is conducted in conditions guaranteeing an adequate level of confidentiality which allows the applicant to present exhaustingly the reasons for applying for the international protection. If necessary, foreigners are provided with the free assistance of an interpreter speaking a language that is comprehensible to the individual concerned. The applicant’s spouse included in the application may be interviewed as well, if he or she demands it.
Individuals seeking refugee status are under special protection. The foreigner’s details based on which it is possible to determine whether:
- the procedure of granting international protection or suspension of a refugee status or subsidiary protection, is in process or has ended,
- the foreigner has been granted or refused the refugee status,
- the foreigner has been granted or refused subsidiary protection
- may not be made available nor gained from entities supposed to be acting as persecutors or causing severe harm.
All the proceedings of granting international protection should conclude with a decision. The decision is issued within 30 days – if the application is examined in accelerated mode or 6 months from the date of lodging an application (this time duration may be prolonged to 15 months). These dates refer to the proceedings conducted by the Head of the Office.
The decision contains the information on the legal basis, the outcome and the instruction in a language that is comprehensible to the individual concerned.
The Refugee Board is a body which considers appeals against the decisions of the Head of the Office.
If a foreigner has been granted refugee status or subsidiary protection, this means that they have been granted the right of residence in Poland. As a rule, the above residence rights are without time limit. A time limit relates to the validity period of the documents issued.
A recognised refugee receives a residence card, which is valid for 3 years and a Geneva Travel Document valid for 2 years.
A person under subsidiary protection receives a residence card, which is valid for 2 years.
The persons covered by protection in the form of refugee status or subsidiary protection have rights similar to those enjoyed by Polish citizens, and in many domains their rights are identical with the rights of Polish citizens (e.g. the right to work).
Prohibition of deportation
It is assumed that deportation should not be forceful. The Border Control gives the foreigner 15-30 days, within which he/she should voluntarily leave the country. Voluntary deportation does not apply if the foreigner had illegally crossed the border or is considered a threat to the public safety.
Prohibition of deportation from Poland applies
- if you are a spouse of a Polish citizen or of a person with the long-term EU residency, and if your further stay does not pose a threat to the public order or
- if you can only be deported to a country, where your life, freedom, safety could be in danger or where you may be tortured, exposed to inhumane treatment, forced to work or deprived of a fair trial, or punished without lawful grounds
- if it violates your right to family life or rights of your child, which are specified in The Convention on the Rights of the Child in the way which may endanger the child’s psychophysical development
Urząd do Spraw Cudzoziemców
Description of what happens if they do not receive the refugee status
One can appeal to the Refugee Council. Until the final decision is made, the person can stay in Poland. The person who, according to the Foreigners Office, does not qualify, should leave the country within 30 days from the day the decision is made. The foreigner cannot apply for another form of residence permit at this stage. If the foreigner refuses to leave, the Border Guard can issue a decision obliging him/her to leave. If the foreigner does not carry out this decision, the Border Guard can act it out by force. In 2015 359 people who previously applied for the refugee status were obliged to leave Poland.
Analysis of how the media depicts the refugees in Poland
State-run tv stations TVP 1 and TVP 2 – follow the line of the ruling party Law and Justice (PiS), who try to create “national media” and education system.
Private TV stations – TVN, TVN24, Polsat etc give independent account of events – positive or negative, mainly critical of government refugee policy.
Daily papers such as social-liberal Gazeta Wyborcza, sympathises with the plea of refugees, educates the public and calls for humanitarian and compassionate response to the migration crisis:
In association with the Office for Foreigners, Gazeta Wyborcza organised the information action for readers, entitled Refugees in Poland – More Knowledge – Less Fear (18 Sept 2015) in which it answers questions such as: Who escapes to EU? Why? Which way are they getting there? Which countries are they heading for? (Number of refugees in different European countries). The current wave of people is not the last – what does that mean for Europe? Who is Europe going to take in? Who are economic migrants? Who are the refugees? Special ONZ Announcement regarding migrants and refugees underlines the major difference between the two, which is often blurred in reports and debates and that has serious consequences. The info pack also explains what happens to the refugees on the checkpoint, how the status is decided, what help is granted and how the officers look out for terrorists.
Ludmila Anannikova, a social journalist from Gazeta Wyborcza, reports that the immigrants barely make ends meet, sometimes living on the verge of homelessness, as the financial state support is insufficient. She also publicised the case of the Chechen refugees turned down from the Polish-Belarus checkpoint in Terespol in September 2016.
In Wyborcza, Duzy Format on 8 Oct 2015, Wojciech Sroczynski wrote:
“Of course we need to accept the refugees, there’s no question about that, this is our duty as human beings. But let’s not say it’s going to be easy, nice and profitable. We are to take them DESPITE the costs and difficulties. There are times when it is not easy to be decent.”
Bishop Pieronek, an auxiliary bishop emeritus: “as Christians and as humans we must be open to the refugees. Polish church calls for mercy and tolerance towards immigrants” (Gazeta Wyborcza, Nov 2015)
Rzeczpospolita newspaper (awarded best Daily, next to the Guardian in 2006) has moderately conservative views, yet remains independent. Deals mainly with politics and finances.
In an interview on 31 May 2016 Dr Maciej Duszczyk, the leader in the Centre for Migration Research from UW called the EU quota system of refugee allocation absurd and should be rejected. In his expert opinion, Polish government, instead of declaring the borders closed, should have proposed its own comprehensive plan of support for the countries of mass immigration, such as Italy or Greece and build the basis for the pro- integration policy: invest more in developmental aid and support our excellent charities working abroad and create an offer for the immigrants and encourage them to come and to stay in Poland.
Bishop Krzysztof Zadarko is being quoted as saying that in a country such as Poland successful integration is possible if we bring immigrants in small groups and “not so culturally different” and integrate the newcomers in big cities
On 11 August 2016 Rzeczpospolita reports that not only Poland, but also another 10 EU member countries have refused to accept immigrants, squatting in Greek and Italian camps. Denmark, Austria, the UK, Hungary, Norway, Italy, Greece, Island, Slovakia and Liechtenstein also refused to accept any refugees.
24,08. 2016- Immigrants may be needed in Poland and Polish people are able to understand that immigrants are not terrorists
26 September- Polish employers struggle for workers, immigrants may be the only way out
Tabloids Fakt and Gazeta Polska Every Day in April 206 reported about refugees from Germany crossing illegally the border to Poland in many places, in order to buy cheaper food in Polish shops illegally, while still awaiting the decision on their status. The checkpoint officers in Zgorzelec are quoted to have arrested about 60 citizens of Syria, Pakistan and Iran.
Follow-up on the refugee crisis
In spite of the decisions by the central government, the local authorities of Gdansk, a big port city in the north of Poland, declared their solidarity with the refugees. In April 2016 the local officials have announced a plan to accept and effectively integrate immigrants- those who already live in Gdansk, and those who may be coming. The citizens of Gdansk are to be directly involved in this project by actively participating in public debates. Gdansk already has 4 thousand, and unofficially even up to 14 thousand immigrants. The local officials there also declare their readiness to accept refugees who may yet come from Italy or Greece, despite the fact that 50% of Gdansk inhabitants said “no” to refugees in an opinion poll.
While European politicians (such as the Luxembourg Minister for foreign affairs Jean Asselborn) try to defy the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban for his unprecedentedly hostile policy towards immigrants in autumn 2016, (the rejection of EU quotas, building a barbed fence along their border etc), Polish government express their wholehearted support for Orban and declare him Man of the Year in the 16th Economic Forum i Krynica in September 2016.
On 5th October 2016 the International Humanitarian Initiative Foundation in Poland started organising financial support, accommodation and clothes for about one hundred Chechen immigrants, who, running from torture and persecution in their country, squatted at the train station in the Polish- Belarusian border city of Brzesc. In September Polish government denied the Chechens their only way of entry to Poland via checkpoint in Terespol, arguing there is no grounds for asylum because there is no war in Chechnya. The psychologist with the Foundation says that most of the men squatting in Brzesc carry multiple signs of torture on their body. Many children are ill and cough heavily. The people spend their last money on train tickets to Terespol, only to be turned down by the checkpoint officials there.
Recent months (May to September 2016) in Poland have seen a wave of racist attacks on foreigners, mainly students. In cities of Bialystok (the biggest city in the north-east, known as a bastion of nationalists) three Turkish Erasmus students ended up in a hospital with concussion and face wounds, in Torun a man (still unknown to the police) verbally assaulted Algerian female student and tried to push her out of the tram. In the capital Warsaw a Polish university professor was attacked on a tram because he was speaking German on the phone (head injuries). The attackers were let go by the tram driver (suspended).
In response to, what they call, “violent acts against foreigners and Poles of foreign ancestry” which have been happening within past year in Poland with open consent of the authorities, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights organised an online campaign called #onidlanas (or #TheyForUs) “to stop this wave of hatred”.
“The purpose of the initiative is to present how foreigners and Poles with ancestry from other countries co-create and enrich the Polish society. The campaign’s hashtag also means that They are important for us and that we oppose the rampant racism, xenophobia and the “Poland for Poles only” sentiment.” – direct quote from the website.
In February 2016 an actor and singer Maria Peszek released her controversial album Karabin (Machine Gun), in which she laments and strongly condemns the displays of racism and homophobia in Polish society.
A new movie has been released by Wilhelm and Anka Sasnal “The Sun, The Sun Has Blinded Me” based on the Albert Camus novel “The Stranger/Outsider” from 1942. In the movie, the couple portrays the Polish society as uncompassionate and hostile towards the newcomer. To The Sasnals, the acclaimed artists and filmmakers, the source of Polish homophobia lies in the fear of the different and the unknown, which has also been encouraged by the teachings of the Polish Catholic Church, preaching intolerance instead of brotherly love and compassion.
May 2017, the United Nations Human Rights Council will evaluate the Poland’s record of compliance with the country’s human rights obligations as part of the process known as the Universal Periodic Review, or the UPR.
The subjective perspective
Polish society is divided on the attitude to immigrants, but the majority seems to support the idea of foreigners’ presence in our society. According to the survey in 2014, 62% of Polish population support open borders and think that those who want to settle in their country should be free to do so.
And yet, we hear Poles say out loud they do not want refugees. So, are the homophobes really the minority? Why have they been so vocal in Polish society, especially in recent year?
Perhaps that is because the immigration has suddenly become real fact of life, and not just theory, the foreigners were actually about to arrive. The standard of living for many Poles is not high enough, so they are not inclined to share the little they have.
Perhaps another reason for the voices of xenophobia being so well heard recently is that those views became sanctioned by the current Polish government, who openly support nationalistic sentiment and spread intolerance. There has never been official consent to these before. It seems crucial to remember, however, that the new right-wing government won only 37% support, and was chosen at the elections where attendance was only 39% in the country of 38.53 million (in 2013).
It has occurred to me, that perhaps Polish society, (of which I strongly feel a part, despite years of emigration) need all this xenophobia exposed, so that we can clearly see how harmful, backwards and embarrassing it is, and realise that it has been there for a very long time. So that we can understand that we have a big problem which needs to be dealt with. Once it is in the open it is easier to combat. It is easier to fight the disease whose symptoms are clear. We need to encourage the majority with open hearts and minds to speak them out and lead the change towards more open and tolerant society.
Statistics according to the 2011 Census, by the Central Statistics Office
Radio TOK FM, Do Zobaczenia, October 2016,
postawy wobec cudzoziemców IPSOS dla IOM PDF