Commissioner for Human Rights

Visits of the CHR Office representatives on the Polish-Ukrainian border


Because of the military aggression of the Russian Federation against independent Ukraine, and the related crisis and dramatic situation of thousands of people seeking refuge in Poland, on 25-27 February 2022 Deputy Commissioner for Human Rights Hanna Machińska and Marcin Sośniak from the Equal Treatment Department of the CHR Office travelled to the Polish-Ukrainian border. They visited twice the border crossings in Medyka, Przemyśl (railway crossing), Korczowa, Hrebenne and Budomierz, and the reception points in Medyka, Korczowa and Lubycza Królewska, established by the governors of Podkarpackie and Lubelskie Voivodeships, where humanitarian aid is provided to people coming from Ukraine. 

The situation on the border, and the current and planned humanitarian aid were discussed by the CHR representatives with Ewa Leniart, governor of Podkarpackie Voivodeship; Andrzej Popko, Border Guard brigade general and commander of Bieszczady Border Guard unit; Konrad Fijołek, mayor of Rzeszów, and officers of the Border Guard and the Customs Service. At each visited border crossing and reception point, the visiting team spoke to people who had safely reached Poland after leaving Ukraine in tragic circumstances and travelling and queuing at border crossing often for several days. Their stories provided a moving picture of war and refugee, separation from relatives, fear for family members, and hope for a soon return to their home country free of war and aggression. 

The representatives of the Commissioner for Human Rights positively assessed the commitment and work of officers of the Border Guard and the Customs Service. Thanks to their involvement and the significant streamlining of border check procedures, border traffic on the Polish side of the crossings is smooth, despite twenty-kilometer long queues of cars and thousands of pedestrians waiting to cross the border from Ukraine. At some crossings (Medyka), 700 to 900 people cross the border per hour. At the individual crossings the numbers reach thousands. It is worth noting that in order to facilitate the crossing of the border, all the visited crossings have been opened for pedestrian traffic. 

On the Polish side of the border crossings there are warm meals, hot beverages, packed lunches and even clothes available to the arriving people. Fire Brigades provide shuttle bus service between the border crossings and the nearest reception points for people who need rest and necessary in-kind assistance. The reception points also offer medical assistance, and in some of them psychological and legal assistance is available. Employees of the Office for Foreigners work on the sites. On border roads, at the crossings, there are family members and close persons from Poland and other European countries waiting for those arriving from Ukraine. Many people have arrived there to offer free of charge transport to any place in Poland.              
The visiting team and the Commissioner for Human Rights have no doubt that the highest appreciation should be accorded to the society for their reaction to the war-related crisis in Ukraine. At this point, a call should be made for informing relevant voivodeship governors about all support and assistance initiatives offered to people leaving Ukraine. At this stage, it will enable the best possible coordination of the assistance a and will contribute to making the aid purposeful and provided where actually needed.

When assessing the situation at the border crossings, the representatives of the Commissioner for Human Rights noticed that certain areas of work of the Border Services require urgent improvement or facilitation. In Medyka, the visitors’ attention was attracted, in particular, by the situation of foreigners fleeing the war - men, women and children - with non-Ukrainian citizenship, who lived, studied or worked in Ukraine. Many of these people arrived at the border without passports. Sometimes they only had photographs of documents issued by Ukraine or of student ID cards. These are mostly citizens of African countries (including Congo, Nigeria or Cameroon) and countries such as Pakistan, India and Turkey. On the days of the visit, those foreigners were waiting in the border crossing building, in very difficult conditions, for their identity to be verified and for a decision on their entry to Poland. According to their statements, the waiting time was over ten hours. It should be remembered that before, those persons, together with citizens of Ukraine, had been waiting for the border check procedure on the Ukrainian side of the border for several days. The situation of that group of people will be clarified by the Commissioner for Human Rights, also during the future visits to the border. 

A significant problem was also the lack of access to information on the conditions of entry to Poland. Many people, at border crossing points, are permitted to enter the territory of the Republic of Poland for 15 days (pursuant to Article 32 of the Act on Foreigners). During that time, they have to take a decision (and related steps) regarding their potential further stay in Poland and its legalization. Unfortunately, when leaving the border crossing they can count only on the provision of verbal information about the conditions for entry. In their circumstances, these persons may find this form of information far from sufficient. The issue was raised in the meeting with the Voivodeship governor who ensured that employees of relevant Voivodeship offices and the Office for Foreigners were ready to get through to foreigners with the necessary information as soon as possible. According to the visiting team, support from non-governmental organizations and lawyers’ organisations may be necessary. 

At present, efforts are made to provide basic humanitarian aid to people waiting to cross the border on the Ukrainian side. Visits of representatives of the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights on Poland’s border with Ukraine will be continued. Another team is leaving for the border already on 28 February 2022.