CHR Office representatives in the Podkarpackie and Lubelskie voivodeships
From 28 February to 4 March 2022, representatives of the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights carried out visits to Border Guard posts located in the Podkarpackie and Lubelskie voivodeships. The objective of the visits was to find out about the conditions at places where foreigners who come to Poland in connection with the war in Ukraine are staying.
The visiting team was composed of representatives of the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture: director Przemysław Kazimirski, Justyna Jóźwiak and Magdalena Dziedzic, and an employee of the Migrants Section of the Equal Treatment Department of the CHR Office, Agnieszka Szmajdzińska.
Representatives of the CHR Office monitored the border crossings in Krościenko, Korczowa, Budomierz and Hrebenne; Border Guard posts in Sanok and Przemyśl; facilities for persons detained by the Border Guard, located in Sanok, Krościenko and Budomierz, as well as reception points for foreigners in Łodyna, Równia and Korczowa and at the railway station in Przemyśl.
The CHR Office representatives expressed their high appreciation for the work and commitment of officers of the Border Guard and other uniformed services who, during the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, work for many hours more, and often engage their private funds to support people who have no money for further travel. Note should also be taken of the work of non-governmental organizations, foundations and private persons who provide voluntary assistance, in particular at border crossings with Ukraine and at reception points.
The situation at the border crossings visited by representatives of the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights has been assessed positively. Importantly, the Border Guard units with territorial competence over the crossings at the border with Ukraine have received staffing support provided by other units from across the country.
The visiting team members were strongly impressed with the organization of the cross-border traffic and the border check process. During the visits, the checks at each of the crossings were conducted in an undisturbed and smooth manner. At the border crossings, persons who have gone through border check on the Ukrainian side pass through several tents. There, they have the opportunity to get warm, eat a hot meal, and get clothes and even prams and car seats for their babies.
At the border crossing in Krościenko, persons who cross the border on foot, having passed the border check, are directed to a waiting room organized in the bus terminal. There, they wait for means of transport to the reception points operated by the local government. If they are in contact with their relatives, they can be picked up by them from the reception point.
As regards medical assistance provision, it varies among the individual border crossings. At the crossing in Budomierz, there are two ambulances assigned to station there. At the crossing in Krościenko, 24-hour assistance is provided by paramedics who have a separate medical care room for use. In Hrebenne, until the visit by the CHR Office representatives, medical aid was provided only on an emergency basis. On the day of the visit, two ambulances with medical teams were travelling from Wrocław in order to provide on-site medical assistance to people in need. In Korczowa, medical aid s provided to foreigners by ambulance teams which are called whenever necessary.
In the opinion of the visiting team members, the provision of permanent medical assistance at the border crossings is necessary because of injuries (mainly feet injuries) that occur in foreigners who travel on foot to cross the border. There are also frequent cases of fainting and of blood circulation problems. Therefore, it is necessary for medical assistance to be available in all necessary cases without delay.
The visiting team members have noted problems with foreigners’ access to mobile telephones and the internet at the border crossings. Therefore, the members appreciate the initiative of mobile telephony network operators whose representatives distribute free-of-charge phone cards at the Krościenko crossing. It is undoubtedly a valuable initiative which should be copied. Also, according to the information obtained during the visit to the crossing, work is coming to an end on setting up, in its immediate vicinity, a waiting point in tents with heated air; the point will also serve as an information point with access to broadband internet.
Border check of foreigners with regard to whom additional verification of identity is required (second line of border control).
Foreigners fleeing the war in Ukraine and coming to Poland undergo border check at the border crossings. In some cases, however, when they are not in the possession of documents or if there are doubts as to their authenticity, additional verification is necessary to confirm such persons’ identity. According to the information obtained by the representatives of the CHR, the second line of border control is used, in most cases, with regard to foreigners of nationality other than Ukrainian. When verifying their identity, Border Guard officers use the assistance of diplomatic representations of the countries of origin of those persons, which confirm their identity. All the visited border crossings have second-line border control points. The verification process runs smoothly and takes several hours. During the waiting time, the foreigners have access to food and beverages provided by the Border Guard service.
During the visits to the border crossings and Border Guard units, the CHR Office representatives have found out about documents used in the verification procedure, and interviewed some foreigners waiting for the confirmation of their identity. As a rule, the foreigners covered by the additional control were aware of the reasons for which they were undergoing it. They were not aware, however, that their waiting time was dependent not only on the work of Border Guard officers, but also on the work of diplomatic representatives of their countries of origin.
The additional verification of foreigners who cross the border in Medyka was organized in a different manner. Because of the high intensity of the border traffic, persons with regard to whom additional verification of identity was required were transported by the Border Guard to the Border Guard posts in Sanok and Przemyśl.
At the time of the visit to the post in Sanok, there were about 40 foreigners who had been brought there from the border crossing in Medyka. At the Border Guard post in Przemyśl, there were 60 men and 70 women and children.
As it has been established, the identity confirmation process in Sanok usually takes between a few hours to over ten hours. In order to streamline the process, the verification procedures are carried out with regard to several persons in parallel.
The Border Guard post in Sanok provides coach transport to foreigners, which makes it easier to them to get to the railway station in Rzeszów, from where they can travel further. Persons whose identity verification has been completed may, depending on their choice, leave the post, or wait there for the coach transport or for the arrival of their relatives. During this time, they can rest in rooms that have been made available to them, in which there are beds or mattresses and blankets. There are also separate rooms for families with children. All the rooms were clean and tidy.
The second-line border control point in Przemyśl was opened on 27 February 2022, and operates within the premises of the Guarded Centre for Foreigners. The foreigners who had been staying at the centre earlier had been transferred to the Guarded Centre for Foreigners in Biała Podlaska. At the time of the visit, the foreigners present at the Przemyśl facility had been staying there for three days i.e. since the beginning of its operation.
The rooms for foreigners had metal bunk beds which had no mattresses but only sleeping pads. According to the Border Guard officers, the lack of mattresses on the beds was related to the need to disinfect them. The rooms were in disorder, and there was litter on the floor, including pieces of food. The officers told the visiting team members that litter removal took place several times a day.
Most complaints relating to the conditions of stay and the duration of the procedure were heard by the visiting team members in the facility’s part allocated to men. The foreigners complained about food and lack of access to fresh air due to the prohibition to leave the building. They also strongly complained of their lack of information about the duration of the verification procedure. The situation was even more difficult for them because they could not contact their relatives. As a result of chaos at the border crossings on the Ukrainian side, some foreigners got separated from their family members or friends, and then had problems with finding them. The inability to communicate with their close persons also made it difficult for the foreigners to plan their next steps e.g. their travel to other places in or outside Poland. Also, women who were staying in a separate wing of the facility mentioned problems with accessibility of intimate hygiene products. The visiting team members, therefore, checked the availability of such products at the facility and found that all the necessary products were available. In this context, the representatives of the CHR would like to point out that the women might have mentioned the problem because of the insufficient monitoring of their demand for such products.
At the Border Guard posts in Sanok and Przemyśl, the officers even offered their private telephones to provide access to the internet to foreigners, but such cases were sporadic because of the necessity for the officers to carry out their official duties. The scale of such assistance was not meeting the needs.
The visiting team found out that foreigners, during their stay at the Border Guard posts, were offered food, i.e. soups, sandwiches, sweets, fruit, water and juices, provided mostly thanks to the engagement of local authorities. Medical assistance was provided at both facilities. The most common interventions by paramedics included dressing of injured feet, and assistance to persons who had fainted as a result of extreme fatigue.
During the verification process, foreigners most frequently declare their intention to seek international protection in the territory of the Republic of Poland, while applications for such protection are much more rare. Between 25 and 28 February 2022 the Border Guard post in Sanok received five applications for international protection, all of which were filed by citizens of Congo. The persons who filed the applications were transferred to the Open Centre for Foreigners in Kolonia Horbów. The post in Przemyśl received three such applications from Nigerian citizens who, due to the negative results of their identity verification, were transferred to the Guarded Centre for Foreigners in Lesznowola.
Unfortunately, neither reports on acceptance of declaration of intent, nor applications for international protection in the territory of the Republic of Poland are translated into the languages spoken by foreigners. In practice, the lack of translation of such documents may lead to a situation that was observed by the visiting team while waiting to enter the border crossing point in Przemyśl: a foreigner who was a speaker of Russian, and whose identity had already been verified, asked the visiting team to explain to him the meaning of the report on acceptance of the declaration.
The assistance provided at the reception points visited by the CHR Office representatives has been assessed positively. As a rule, the points were appropriately organized. At each of them, foreigners could rest on camp beds and had access to beverages, meals and medical assistance. Thanks to charity actions, at the reception points there were also stands where in-kind assistance was offered (clothes, cosmetic products, etc.).
In most cases, transport to the reception points is provided by local authorities. Thanks to such an organization system, the traffic at the border crossings is smooth, which makes it possible to avoid excessive accumulation of people in their area.
An exemplary system operates at the reception point in Korczowa. The point, organised within the premises of a market hall (Hala Kijowska) is run by the County Office of the town of Jarosław and has places for about 2500 foreigners. The point has camp beds, blankets, toys and equipment for children. The space has been divided into areas for men, for mothers with children, and for nursing mothers. The visiting team took note of the fact that there was a cleaning service on the site thanks to which it was kept tidy and clean. In addition, within the reception point there were also: information stands, meal serving stands (serving also hot meals), medical aid points and stands run by representatives of diplomatic missions. At the time of the visit, about 2200 foreigners were staying at the reception point.
During the visit to the reception point located at the railway station in Przemyśl, Border Guard officers informed the visiting team that they were checking offers of assistance from private individuals. In order to increase the safety of foreigners using the offers of free transport by private persons arriving in the area of the Polish-Ukrainian border, persons declaring their will to provide transport are required to provide officers with their data, including name, surname, car plate number and telephone number. In the light of information about the possibility of abuses related to such transport, the supervision exercised by the officers should be assessed positively.
The visiting team noticed that the reception points in Łodyna and Równia (Ustrzyki Dolne municipality) were operating to their maximum capacity. In this context, the visiting team points out that the low efficiency of the reception points (low fluctuation of people at the points) directly translates into the efficiency of the border check process, and may significantly extend the waiting time for foreigners. Therefore, the officers have big hopes related to the opening of two additional points that are currently being prepared in the Ustrzyki Dolne municipality, for the operation which the consent of the Podkarpackie Voivode is required. On the day of the visit to the points in Łodyna and Równia, there the consent had not yet been granted.
Facilities for persons detained by the Border Guard
During the visit, there were no persons present in the visited facilities for persons detained by the Border Guard. The material conditions at the facilities have been assessed as very good. The CHR Office representatives also looked into documentation kept by the facilities on detained persons in the past months. The analysis of the documentation did not raise any objections as to the correctness of documenting the Border Guard activities. Detailed conclusions regarding the visits to the facilities for persons detained by the Border Guard will be presented in a separate report of the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture.
Representatives of the Commissioner for Human Rights consider it necessary to introduce a register of persons undergoing additional verification by second-line border control points, which register will contain, in addition to personal data and nationality, also the date and time of admission to the point, and the date and time of leaving the point. Currently, the registers kept by the points include only a given foreigner’s personal data, nationality and the date of admission to the point. The introduction of the proposed register would serve the purpose of full transparency of actions taken by Border Guard officers with regard to such persons, as well as control of the duration of the procedure.
The CHR Office employees also consider it necessary for the second-line border control points to have access to the internet so as the foreigners can communicate with their relatives. Border Guard officers should also draw up written information about reasons for conducting the procedure, about the need to involve diplomatic representations of foreigners’ countries of origin in the process and about its duration being dependent on active participation of those representations. It is also necessary to translate the forms of application for international protection in Poland, and declaration of intention to apply for international protection in Poland into the languages used by foreigners who are subject to the second-line border control.
The visiting team also emphasize the need to establish new reception points to serve border crossings, because the constant availability of free places at such points directly impacts the efficiency of border check procedures.
The representatives of the CHR Office, being greatly impressed by the engagement of the services and volunteers providing assistance to foreigners at the border crossings and the reception points, also emphasize the need to constantly increase the number of persons providing the assistance, so that they have the possibility to rest and gain strength for further work.