Strasbourg rules against Poland over Chechen migrants

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that Poland should pay compensation to asylum seekers from Chechnya who it had not allowed to cross its borders. The court decreed that Polish authorities had been in violation of several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Polish border guards on the border between the country and Belarus have been accused of illegitimately refusing entry to Chechen, mainly, Muslim, asylum seekers. The ECHR was petitioned by two families and an individual man, all citizens of the Russian Federation who between 2016 and 2017 were seeking international protection. They claimed that they felt unsafe in Chechnya.

The families were repeatedly turned away from the border in Terespol. They had informed guards of their wish to seek asylum but were told they did not have the right to enter Poland as they had not proved the risk of persecution. The families dispute this arguing that they had told the guards that they could face torture or other forms of degrading treatment if they went back to Russia and that they had no access to an “adequate asylum procedure in Belarus, the country they were trying to access Poland from.

The ECHR ruled that Poland violated 3 articles of the European Convention on Human Rights which apply to torture, prohibition of expulsion of aliens and the right to effective remedy. It also found Poland guilty of failing to honour its obligations on the right to petition and awarded 34,000 EUR to each of the applicants.

The court believed the human rights monitors and the families rather than the Polish authorities and claimed that the human rights watchdogs had uncovered “systemic practice of misrepresenting statements given by asylum seekers”. The court’s ruling is not final and the Polish authorities have a right to appeal against it within three months.

Chechens have been applying for asylum in Poland since the conflicts in the 1990s. Over 70,000 of them lodged applications to stay in Poland since the start of the second Chechen war in 2004. Since 2015 Poland has been accused by human rights watchdogs of discriminating against Muslims in its asylum policies.

In April, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic had breached their obligations under European law by refusing to take in quotas of refugees assigned to them. This was because these states had objected to the policy of compulsory quotas which had been designed by the European Commission.

Poland and migration

The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) has been resistant to taking in refugees, especially from Muslim states or territories. It has done so on security and cultural grounds.

Poland, like all the other Visegrad states, has argued for tight protection of the EU’s borders. Limiting and discouraging asylum applications fits in with that policy stance.

However, Poland is the EU state that over the past two years has let in the most migrants from outside of the EU wishing to work and live in the country. They have come from Ukraine, Belarus, the Caucasus, Central Asia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, India, China and Vietnam. Shortages in the labour market have ensured Polish interest in taking in foreign labour.

With regard to Chechens the country in the noughties had let in tens of thousands of migrants. Many of them used Poland as a pitstop on the way to migrating to Germany or other West European countries. Some had problems with cultural assimilation in Poland. But Chechens are still the largest refugee group in Poland.

Since then the Polish authorities have been reluctant to admit Chechens, who now tend to seek to migrate to other lands. Out of the 4,100 asylum petitions submitted in Poland in 2019 only 3 percent were successful with 42 percent being rejected and over half having been discontinued, mainly when applicants move to another country.