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Hearings of foreigners within the administrative procedure

The findings of the Foundation’s report point out a range of problems appearing during questioning of foreign nationals, most common of which are the lack of interpreter services, failure to notify the questioned of their rights and duties and infringement of their right to privacy.

Foreigners staying in Poland are questioned as part of numerous administrative and court proceedings. The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights experts involved in the international research project ‘Practices in Interviewing Immigrants: Legal Implications’ examined the practice of questioning foreigners during the proceedings for awarding the refugee status and proceedings regarding foreigners pending before the provincial authorities. Their observations became the basis of a report called ‘Practices in Interviewing Immigrants: Legal Implications Report From Poland’.

The experts alert that none of the examined offices followed any general written principles of interviewing foreigners which would be binding for the public servants, interpreters and translators, interviewed foreigners or other entities authorised to be present at the questioning. ‘This leads to a situation where all persons involved are often poorly informed as to the manner of conducting an interview and its implications for an individual foreigner’, says Maja Tobiasz, the author of the report. ‘Foreigners are often unaware of their rights and duties during an interview. They do not know that they may request a change of interpreter if the interpretation is bad or may ask for a break if an interview lasts several hours.’, adds Ms Tobiasz.

Administrative bodies do not provide free of charge interpreters in all proceedings.  In addition, the level of foreign language proficiency varies among interpreters assisting at interviews of foreign nationals at the Office for Foreigners, Refugee Board and province governor’s offices, including the Mazovia Province Governor’s Office in  Warsaw. The report takes note of the fact that the interpreters are not required to have any specific intercultural skills or experience in the work with nationals of ‘third countries’, or non-EU states. Also their knowledge of legal terminology is not taken into account.

What happens if mistakes in the interpretation have been made? ‘Under the applicable law there is no effective mechanism of protecting the foreigner against misinterpretation during an interview or an improper conduct of the interviewer’, explains Maja Tobiasz.

Interviews are not recorded by audio or visual means. Foreigners are thus deprived of any opportunity to prove that their testimonies differ from what appears in the record of an interview. On many occasions they are not able to verify what has been included in the record as many offices do not issue copies of records to foreigners.

The examination revealed that in some offices interviews are carried out in conditions that do not respect the interviewees’ right to privacy. For instance, a number of individuals are questioned in the same room being asked most intimate questions regarding such issues as their marital cohabitation and so on.

The report on Poland was prepared by the lawyers of the Programme of legal assistance for refugees and migrants.

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