At a Border Crossing Where Rights Are Forgotten, Polish Lawyers Stand Up for Refugees

A group of 14 attorneys provided assistance to persons seeking international protection in Poland at a crossing point on the border with Belarus, a frontier where the rights of asylum seekers are blatantly ignored.
The March 17 event was a joint initiative of the Warsaw Regional Bar Association, the HFHR and the Association for Legal Intervention, the organizations 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 organization Human Constanta, Chlebem i Solą project for refugees, the International Humanitarian Initiative Foundation and the website.

Border closed for refugees

The monitoring conducted by non-governmental organizations reveals 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 return to the Brest-Terespol border station dozens of times, often with their families.

Attorneys at the border

Unfortunately, the attorneys' visit to the border confirmed all the information collected in previous reports. Officers of the Border Guard prevented lawyers from representing the refugees and made it impossible to initiate the procedure for granting international protection.

While awaiting clearance to see their clients, attorneys and representatives of NGOs received calls and messages from the refugees waiting at the border checkpoint.

At first, the director declined to accept the lawyers' submissions to represent their clients and send them to the station’s registry office, which was located few kilometers away. However, after a while, the manager ultimately decided to receive their applications but they were not able to talk to the persons they represented.

While waiting for the acceptance of the documents, attorneys and representatives of NGOs received calls and messages from the refugees waiting at the border checkpoint. According to the refugees when they asked for a lawyer, the Border Guard responded that they did not have the right to do so. Moreover, no one who came to the border crossing had received an interpreter’s assistance.

A road to nowhere

The Border Guard decided to allow two of the lawyers to contact their clients - two families with children. It soon became clear, however, that the decision denying them entry to Poland had already been taken and that lawyers could only take part in the proceedings for the denial of entry. Chechens were later sent on a return train back to Belarus - along with other people who tried to cross the border that day.

Although refugees wanted to have access to the international protection procedure, none of them received this opportunity, despite the fact that the European Union's legislation guarantees such help.

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