The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (HFHR) has appealed to over 20 international organizations that specialize in protecting refugees’ rights in regard to the disturbing reports of returns at the Polish border.
"The most concerning is the situation of Tajikistanis. During the last couple of weeks, most of them were refused entry at the border in Terespol/Brest as they were seeking protection in Poland," says Marta Szczepanik of the HFHR. "We need to emphasize that during the last year, the situation in Tajikistan has become significantly worse. Reports from international organizations indicate that Tajikistani dissidents living abroad may fall victims of torture in case they return to their country."
Tajikistani migrants cannot stay in Belarus either, as the country is in agreement with Tajikistan regarding extradition.
In its appeal, the HFHR drew attention to the provisions of the Geneva Convention on refugee status; under those provisions, it is prohibited to return and cast out before their case is analyzed those who declare fear from persecution.
Running in fear
The HFHR has asked international organizations to look closely at whether Poland respects right to access to international protection on the country’s eastern border.
"In Terespol, I talked to most of the families seeking protection in Poland," says Marta Szczepanik. "One married couple that probably would have to leave to Russia today as there are no laws letting them stay longer in Belarus, are activists from a youth organization that was cooperating with – delegalized last year – the main opposition party in Tajikistan. Its former members are currently imprisoned by the government or in hiding. One of them spent several months in prison and after having been released, they decided to run away from the country in fear of prosecution," says Marta Szczepanik.
Poland has obligations
International, EU and Polish laws impose the obligation on Poland to carry out fair procedures for all persons seeking international protection.
"Polish institutions may decide that those who apply for refugee status are not in any risk of persecution and refuse any protection," explains Daniel Witko, a lawyer at the HFHR. "Yet at the Terespol/Brest border crossing, such a procedure was not carried out. Foreigners need to have the opportunity to seek asylum instead of being denied protection upfront.”
According to authorities' decision from July 29, the families must return to Russia and would not receive asylum in Poland.
HFHR lawyers are in contact with the Tajikistani families and are considering further legal steps regarding that matter.