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Attorneys at border: Poland failed to implement ECtHR judgment

The Warsaw Bar Council, Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights and Association for Legal Intervention have issued a joint communique concerning the case of a foreign national turned away at the border crossing in Terespol in contravention of an order made by the European Court of Human Rights, which requested cessation of such procedures.

The ECtHR decided that Poland should not return a refugee who wanted to submit an application for international protection at the Polish-Belorussian border crossing station in Terespol before 22 June. During that time, the Strasbourg Court will have an opportunity to collect necessary information about the case and complete the formalities. The ECtHR asked the Polish Government to answer several questions regarding the domestic procedure for accepting asylum applications. The interim measures were granted on grounds that the foreigner’s return to Belarus may result in his deportation to Russia, where he may be exposed to torture as well as inhuman and degrading treatment. In the past, the foreign national made 27 attempts to submit an asylum application.

The Court responded to the applicant’s motion within hours, ordering the cessation of his return. Although the Polish Government had been notified of the interim measures an hour before the departure of a train to Brest, the foreign national was returned to Belarus. Such a situation has happened once before.

On the next day, the foreigner reappeared at the Terespol border crossing station.  From the early hours of that day, the foreigner’s attorney Sylwia Gregorczyk-Abram repeatedly notified both the Headquarters of the Border Guards and the Border Guard station at Terespol that her client would appear at the border crossing, requesting his admission in accordance with the wording of the interim measures issued by the Strasbourg Court. However, the Polish Government has failed to perform this legal obligation. The foreign national was searched and asked about who helped his to draw up the documents, how did he find a lawyer and how much did he pay her. A copy of the interim measures the foreigner has was taken away from him. He was returned to Belarus on the 11.25 train.

The actions of the Border Guard are in direct contravention of a decision of the ECtHR and as such constitute a violation of Article 34 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Moreover, such actions are another example of the practice of refusing to receive foreign nationals’ applications for international protection and returning them to Belarus, which is contrary to international law. The behaviour of the Border Guard officers working at the Terespol station, who refused to receive the foreigner in Poland despite having been ordered to do so by the ECtHR, may also be treated as and abuse of a public official’s powers, the offence under Article 231 of the Polish Criminal Code.

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