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Poland should accept refugees

The position of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights regarding the proposal of the European Commission on migrant quotas.

The tragic conflict raging in Syria, along with persecutions and poverty, causes thousands of people to risk their lives in an attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea and get to the European Union. According to information from the International Organisation for Migration, in 2014 nearly 3,300 people drowned in the Mediterranean Sea, and since the beginning of 2015 the number of people lost at sea has exceeded 1,700.

In response to this situation the European Commission has presented a plan to introduce mandatory migrant quotas, that is a set number of migrants to be received by individual EU countries. Under the proposal, Poland would be obliged to accept a total of 3,621 people.

We are deeply disappointed with the opposition of the Polish government towards the proposal of the European Commission. The dramatic situation of migrants should burden all the EU member states with particular responsibility for their well-being. As a signatory to the Geneva Convention of 1951 Poland and the EU Member States should jointly offer assistance to persons who have left their home states because of wars or persecutions. It must be stressed that the quota proposed by the European Commission does not exceed the capacity of the Polish state. Each year between 7,000 and 10,000 refugees file applications for [international] protection in Poland and the proposed quota will not be an excessive burden for the Polish asylum system.

We appeal to the Polish government to take further urgent actions in connection with the humanitarian crisis in civil war-stricken Syria. In December 2014 Poland declared its involvement in the refugee resettlement programme, as part of which it is to receive 100 Syrian people. In our opinion, these actions are not sufficient due to their extent and – above all – a distant implementation date. The pilot resettlement programme is to commence not earlier than 2016, whereas people are still dying in Syria.

We call on Polish authorities to assist the Syrian people in leaving the war zone and enable their legal entry to Europe by granting them visas. We also appeal that resettlement of refugees to Poland under the planned UNHCR programme be accelerated.

We welcome the statement of the Polish government that it is planning to receive 60 Syrian families. Nevertheless, we want to underline that religion or ethnic origin should never be a decisive criterion for selecting persons to whom protection will be offered, unless such a criterion substantially increases the level of actual threat. It is nothing else than a degree of an actual and direct danger to a person that should determine the priority of the relief granted.

We would like to remind our readers that the reception of the refugees is not itself a sufficient remedy to their problems. Poland should properly prepare for their arrival, in order to ensure them appropriate living conditions and integration opportunities in the long term.

It should be once more emphasised that Poland, as a Member State of the EU and a Party to the Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees, cannot be indifferent to the fate of thousands of Syrian nationals who require immediate protection from war and persecution or immigrants perishing in the Mediterranean Sea.

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