UN expert praises generosity towards Ukrainian refugees by Poland and urges Belarus and Poland to end pushbacks
28 July 2022
Poland has offered a warm welcome for Ukrainian refugees but the reality for asylum seekers and migrants from other countries is starkly different, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Felipe González Morales said today at the end of an official visit.
The Special Rapporteur conducted an official visit to Poland and Belarus from 12 to 25 July 2022. The visit to Belarus concerned the situation at the border between the two countries.
“I am impressed by the Government of Poland for providing significant support to a huge number of refugees fleeing Ukraine in such an intense period. At the same time, we must pay tribute to Polish citizens who have shown solidarity and generosity to Ukrainian refugees. Over 2 million refugees currently stay in Poland and most of them are hosted as guests in private homes by Polish people,” González Morales said in an end of mission statement.
“This explains why I do not see refugee camps in Poland,” he said.
However, the Special Rapporteur noted that while Ukrainian refugees are generally well-supported, the realities for migrants, asylum seekers and refugees from other countries of origin seemed very different.
“Even for those that have fled the same war, although all were accepted for entry into Poland and have received assistance from the State, third country nationals are not protected under the same legal framework,” González Morales said. “Those with specific vulnerabilities including the ones with irregular migratory status face heightened difficulties in obtaining residence permits and proper shelter,” he said.
“I note with concern that this double standard approach has led to feelings of being discriminated among third country nationals,” the UN expert said.
Since the outbreak of war in Ukraine, Polish authorities and hundreds and thousands of ordinary Polish citizens have taken immediate actions to protect, assist and integrate Ukrainian refugees. Parliament adopted a special law granting Ukrainian citizens and their spouses, equal access to the Polish labour market, health care, right to education and other social benefits. Third country nationals are protected in line with goals set out in the EU Temporary Protection Directive.
National and local authorities, in close collaboration with the Polish Border Guard and other relevant public services, facilitated speedy border crossing, provided free transportation, humanitarian assistance and medical aid for Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war.
“The Polish government has demonstrated strong commitment not to leave any Ukrainian refugee without a roof over their heads,” González Morales said. However, the Special Rapporteur warned that since the current housing model for these refugees depended heavily on the generosity of individuals and private donors, it was crucial to conduct an assessment on its sustainability.
“During winter, the housing situation could be affected by multifaceted challenges, including energy shortages, inflation, exhaustion or frustration of private hosts who have already sacrificed their private space for months,” González Morales warned.
“Realistic plans should be made to ensure a concrete delivery of the Polish Government’s commitment to Ukrainian refugees,” the expert said. “Poland should also identify assistance needed from the international community, especially the European Union,” González Morales said.
The Special Rapporteur also assessed the situation of migrants at the Polish and Belarusian border. González Morales said that although the area is relatively calm compared to last winter, some migrants, including new arrivals, remain stranded between the two borders and subject to violence and pushbacks from both sides.
On the Belarusian side, migrants were subject to de facto detention at the already closed Temporary Logistical Centre, where they were sheltered. On the Polish side, migrant children and those with their families, and pregnant women remain detained in closed immigration facilities, the expert said.
“Children and other vulnerable individuals should not be locked up merely due to their migration status. Alternative reception and care options exist in Poland,” González Morales said. “I urge relevant authorities to immediately release unaccompanied children, children with their families, pregnant women and individuals with mental conditions into open facilities,” he said.
The Special Rapporteur urged Belarus, Poland and the EU to establish communication and conduct dialogue on the situation at their common border. “Most importantly, they must avoid any further loss of life, stop pushbacks, and protect the human rights of migrants,” González Morales said.
The Special Rapporteur will present his reports to the Human Rights Council in June 2023.
Mr. Felipe González Morales (Chile) was appointed Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants in June 2017 by the UN Human Rights Council, for an initial period of three years. His mandate was renewed for three additional years in June 2020. As a Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity. He is Professor of International Law at the Diego Portales University, in Santiago, Chile, where he is also the Director of a Master’s programme in International Human Rights Law.
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
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