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At the border. Attorneys from Warsaw Bar, HFHR and ALI help asylum seekers in Terespol

On Friday 17 March, a group of 14 attorneys from the Warsaw Regional Bar Association provided assistance to persons seeking international protection (refugee status) in Poland at the Brest-Terespol border crossing station. The event is a joint initiative of the Warsaw Regional Bar Association, the HFHR and the Association for Legal Intervention, the organisations that have been long involved in the monitoring of the situation at border stations, including the railway border station at Terespol.

The initiative was supported by the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights, Belarusian refugee aid organisation Human Constanta, Chlebem i Solą project for refugees, the International Humanitarian Initiative Foundation and Uchodźcy.info web portal.

The monitoring conducted by non-governmental organisations reveal that Polish authorities have been routinely denying access to asylum for refugees who appear at the border between Poland and Belarus. Officers of the Border Guard, having conducted interviews that last from two to ten minutes, arbitrarily deny most asylum seekers’ applications to initiate the asylum procedure. These practices became more frequent in the second half of 2015 and the situation gradually deteriorated throughout the entire 2016. Many persons who invoke a threat to life and express the intent of seeking protection are denied access to asylum procedure by border officers. Such persons receive decisions on the denial of entry and are subsequently turned back from the Polish border to Brest, Belarus. Most often they are very determined people whose determination to enter Poland is fueled by fear for their own lives and lives of their family members. They travel to the Brest-Terespol border station dozens of times, often with their families.

The purpose of the presence of attorneys and representatives of NGOs such as the HFHR at the border station is to emphasise the importance of public authorities’ respect for Poland’s obligations under the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and applicable procedures of the grant of protection under EU laws. According to reports of non-governmental organisations, officers working at this border station often “cannot hear” the intent of seeking international protection declared by foreigners.

“The conduct of Polish authorities towards asylum seekers is all the more regrettable given the fact that in past centuries Poles fleeing the country from persecution were welcomed with open arms”, says Danuta Przywara, President of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights.

“We know that the behaviour of Border Guard officers is not a consequence of legal ignorance, which makes them even more responsible. We are very content that we can count on the support of the Polish bar in this area, as in many other fields”, Ms Przywara adds.

A report from a monitoring visit conducted by the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights in October 2016 can be read here.

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