Cablegate: Asylum Seekers in Poland- Part 1: The Basics

DE RUEHWR #2272/01 3311535
R 271535Z NOV 07




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) Poland,s accession to the Schengen area, permitting
open travel within much of Europe, and its geographical
location on the Eastern border of the European Union, have
had a large influence on the number of Eastern Europeans
(especially Chechens) seeking asylum in Poland. As the
number of asylum seekers increases, the GOP works hard to
streamline the application process, as well as to adjust its
assistance programs and facilities to better respond to the
needs of asylum seekers. This is Part I of a two-part cable
pertaining to refugees. Part I provides a basic overview of
the refugee situation in Poland, including statistics, a
description of the application process and forms of
assistance. Part II will further explain Poland's policy and
expected legislation in regards to asylum seekers. The
reports are based on information compiled from meetings with
UNHCR representatives, the Ministry of Interior,s Office for
Foreigners (OFF) briefings, discussions with NGOs covering
refugee assistance as well as field visits to asylum centers.
The Process
2. (U) The Ministry of Interior,s Office for Foreigners
(OFF) is responsible for overseeing and coordinating
Poland,s asylum request procedure. Asylum seekers
interested in applying for refugee status have to fill out an
application and submit it to OFF, which has six months to
issue a decision. The decision may be appealed through the
Council for Refugees. During the status request procedure or
appeal, foreigners are entitled to assistance from the state
while awaiting decision, including accommodation and meals in
the centers or outside (in the case of medical and family
exceptions), as well as medical care.

3. (U) Most first time applicants (80.5%) apply at the
border, specifically near the Terespol border crossing, while
returning applicants reapply in Warsaw (92%). Terespol, one
of the busiest border crossings between Ukraine and Poland,
is known as the entry point for those arriving from Russia.
Chechens in particular find this entry point into the EU
logistically convenient, since most of them travel through
Moscow by direct train to Terespol. The border crossing at
Terespol has an established process of handling these cases
and provides asylum seekers with appropriate information on
how to apply for status and report to the central refugee
reception center.

Refugee vs. Tolerated Status
4. (U) The OFF may either grant refugee status to the
applicant or give permission for a "tolerated stay." Refugee
status is granted to persons who meet the criteria of the
1951 Geneva Conventions on the Status of Refugees and its
1967 Protocol. Those granted refugee status receive an
international passport allowing them to leave Poland, and are
entitled to assistance programs. The assistance programs
include social benefits as well as an adaptation program that
provides additional funding and assistance for immersion into
Polish society such as language training and help with job
search. Persons who are refused refugee status may be granted
a status of "tolerated stay," which is similar to a residence
permit allowing applicants to remain and work in Poland.
People with tolerated status are not eligible for state
assistance, therefore many tend to reject the tolerated
status and resubmit their application for refugee status.

The Numbers and Statistics
5. (U) Although the main country of origin of refugees is
the Russian Federation, and more specifically, Chechnya,
there a handful of asylum seekers from Belarus, Ukraine and
Pakistan. In the first nine months of 2007, 5,201 persons
applied for refugee status, out of which 2,991 were first
time applicants and the remainder reapplying for status. The
2007 numbers are comparable to 2006. During this period, 148
persons were granted refugee status and 2,300 were given
permission for tolerated stay.

6. (U) Most re-applicants are asylum seekers who were already
granted a permit for tolerated stay. The percentage of those
reapplying has continued to increase, jumping from 2% in
2004, to 24% in 2005 and to 46% in 2006. Based on current
Polish law, a person granted tolerated status must vacate the
refugee center and no longer has access to state assistance.
If an applicant appeals the decision and reapplies for
refugee status, his or her state assistance and accommodation
at the reception center continue. It may take up to another
six months for the case to be reconsidered and there is no
limit to how many times an individual is allowed to reapply,

WARSAW 00002272 002 OF 003

suggesting that the majority of re-applicants are motivated
to prolong their stay in reception centers and other related
social programs.

--------------------------------------------- -----
Reception Centers for Asylum Seekers
--------------------------------------------- -----

7. (U) The OOF currently runs 17 reception centers that
accommodate asylum seekers. The majority of these centers are
located in central and eastern Poland, with the main center
in Debak, near Warsaw. Three of the centers are owned by the
Office for Aliens and the remaining 14 are rented.

8. (U) Newcomers seeking asylum at the border are given
information about the main center in Debak, where they are
directed to for processing and assistance. Once in Debak,
they submit the formal paperwork for asylum, and applicants
undergo medical exams and counseling. They also become
eligible for social assistance, including: accommodation,
food, medical and legal services, clothing, pocket money and
for public transports. The center has a capacity of 300
people, and provides access to cooking facilities, TV rooms,
playgrounds and places of worship for its residents. At the
center, asylum seekers also have the opportunity to enroll in
Polish language classes and have access to a computer center
and its resources. The center continues to be at full
capacity, with recently as many as 100 new arrivals a day.

9. (U) After the in-processing period, which in general lasts
a week, people are reassigned to one of the remaining 16
centers where they continue their wait for a decision on
their asylum request. As of mid-October, 4,223 asylum
seekers (up from 3,250 during the same period last year) were
being housed in the reception centers. Most of these centers
are former workers hotels, or have a dorm style set-up with a
shared bathroom and kitchen facilities. Each center also has
a language teacher, medical doctor and a counselor available
to assist the residents; however, maintaining such a staff in
the centers seems to be a continuing challenge. In Polish
reception centers on average, there is one social worker for
every 200 people, whereas in most EU countries the ratio is
one to 50.

10. (U) Overall, the GOP spends 30 PLN per day per person for
its reception center population, excluding medical care.
Medical care for asylum seekers is costly for the GOP, since
many of the asylum seekers are either victims of trauma or
violence, and had limited or no access to medical care prior
to arriving in Poland. The GOP spends twice as much money on
medical care per asylum seeker as it does per Polish citizen.

11. (U) An asylum seeker who is not able to reside in the
center for some specific reason can apply for funding to
cover his or her daily living expenses outside the center.
Currently, 733 asylum seekers live outside the centers while
financially supported by Polish authorities. In this case, a
single person receives 25 PLN per day and a family of three
60 PLN per day.

A Destination or a Transit Country
12. (U) Polish officials are aware that the majority of
people requesting refugee status consider their stay in
Poland temporary and that they hope later to proceed to a
richer EU state, with higher social and integration
assistance. Low pay, few job opportunities and lack of
affordable housing represent additional challenges asylum
seekers face in Poland, making neighboring countries more

13. (U) For many asylum seekers Poland is the entry point
into the EU. However, many asylum seekers with the intention
of going further west run afoul of the new Dublin II
Regulation, which establishes the criteria for the asylum
process and prevents "asylum shopping" by ensuring only one
EU state will adjudicate any given application. Dublin II
permits the return of asylum seekers to the country of "first
application," namely Poland in the case of those who move on
from here. Since Poland is the eastern border of the EU, it
is the original recipient of many of the asylum seekers from
the East and is responsible for the majority of those whose
initial stop was Poland. Many who go on to other countries
are therefore returned to Poland, so called "Dublin-II-ed,"
when seeking asylum in a second country. Only in exceptional
cases will a second country be responsible for processing the
asylum seeker and not return them to Poland. In 2006, a
total of 682 aliens were returned to Poland, mainly from
Belgium, France Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
This year, as of October tenth, 1,057 new requests for the
return of asylum seekers have been submitted by other EU
Member states to Poland.

WARSAW 00002272 003 OF 003

14. (U) Some asylum seekers do decide to return to their
home country by taking advantage of the voluntary return
program implemented by Polish authorities in cooperation with
the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The
program ensures the travel of those who wish to return to
their places of residence and provides support for their
reintegration. The interest in the program is growing. Within
the last two years, approximately 500 foreigners, mainly
large families and the elderly have taken up the opportunity.

15. (U) "Is anyone left at home?"-asked a Chechen woman
during our recent visit to the reception center in Debak.
The number of refugees searching for a better life--an hoping
to move on once Poland's joins Schengen--continues to rise,
while the GOP works hard to provide appropriate assistance to
those in need. To handle the increased flow of arrivals, OOF
will be shortly opening an additional center. There is
legislation pending that would provide additional assistance
and access to integration programs for all. The fact that
Poland is due to join the Schengen zone as of December 21,
2007 has sparked a discussion amongst refugee experts on how
it will influence asylum seekers and migration patterns. The
rumor of stricter entry laws into Poland after December is
quickly spreading, which could explain the sudden increase of
asylum seekers in recent months. Part 2 of this cable will
further explain Poland,s policy and expected changes and
legislation to better deal with the new phenomena of asylum
seekers. End Comment.

© Scoop Media

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