Asylum Seekers Blocked at Polish – Belarusian Border
Since 2016, large numbers of asylum seekers, mostly from the Russian Republic of Chechnya, but also from Tajikistan and Georgia, have tried to apply for asylum in Poland at the border with Belarus. Most of them are families with children. Polish authorities routinely deny them the right to apply for asylum and instead summarily return them to Belarus.
Local human rights NGOs and groups in Poland and Belarus say that the summary returns have been going on for years but that the numbers increased significantly in 2016. In October 2016 the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights conducted a monitoring visit in order to investigate the situation at the Brześć-Terespol (Brest-Terespol) border crossing. We may read there: What should be noted, however, is that the situation of children is particularly worrying. Children of the school age do not attend school and do not have access to education in any form. For some children, this state of affairs has been continuing for as long as several months - there are families who declared to have arrived in Brest in July 2016. Furthermore, children witness the difficult situation of their parents, which is an exceptional emotional burden. The minors are exposed to stressful situations, anxiety and humiliation experienced by parents whom they accompany during all the attempts of crossing the border that their parents make (p. 3). (...) Apart from a single case when we interviewed a widower travelling alone, all the other interviewees stayed in Brest together with their families (each family consisted of a spouse and/or children, there were three to eight children in a family). Several young women were in advanced pregnancy (p.10). (...) Several families without money were forced to camp at the railway station in Brest. This group includes ca. 30 children who are deprived of warm shelter, which results in them being exposed to many different diseases and the risk of deterioration of health condition (p.16). The HFHR's observers underline that the situation of these children deserves special concern and attention.
Lydia Gall, Balkans and Eastern Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch, stated: Poland is putting people in danger by denying them access to its asylum process and returning them to Belarus, where they can't get protection. Trapping families and others at the Belarus border and refusing to hear their asylum claims is no way for an EU state to behave.
Of course Belarus has provisions in law for an asylum system, but in practice it does not offer meaningful protection. Asylum seekers from the Russian republics in the North Caucasus and from Tajikistan are exposed to a risk of being returned by Belarusian authorities to persecution in Russia or in Tajikistan as a result of being denied access to the asylum procedure in Poland.
It is reported that between August and September 2016, as many as 3,000 asylum seekers and migrants were turned back at the border crossing and stranded in Belarusian border town Brest. It is also confirmed by the human rights organizations that the summary refusals and returns are ongoing in 2017.