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08 July 2020 – Poland

Biala Podlaska Guarded Centre (No Borders Group Warsaw, accessed on 8 July 2020,
Biala Podlaska Guarded Centre (No Borders Group Warsaw, accessed on 8 July 2020,

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, the Polish Commissioner for Human Rights (Ombudsman’s office) contacted the Polish Border Guard to obtain information concerning Covid-19 measures for migrants and refugees.

The commissioner said that the Polish Border Guard had informed them that on 17 March, the Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Border Guard ordered the commanders of the Border Guard units not to impose administrative and criminal sanctions against:

– Non-citizens who exceed the permitted period of stay in the country as a result of restrictions on international traffic, provided that the alleged breach took place after 14 March 2020;

– Non-citizens who fail to depart the country as per Article 299(6) of the Act on Foreigners because of restrictions on international traffic, provided that the alleged breach took place after 14 March;

– Non-citizens who fail to respect the deadline of a voluntary return order, provided that the deadline for the voluntary return expired after 14 March.

In its letter to the commissioner, the Border Guard argued that the Covid-19 pandemic did not justify the release of non-citizens already in detention because those orders purportedly remained valid. In contrast, many other European countries have called into question the validity of many detention orders during the pandemic precisely because one of the key rationales for immigration detention–detention for removal–has become untenable in many cases (see, for example, the updates on this platform for Spain, Switzerland, and Portugal).

The Border Guard said that the legitimacy of non-citizens’ detention was analysed and assessed on a current basis so as to not violate the provisions on the release of non-citizens set out in the Act of 12 December 2013 on foreigners and the Act of 13 June on granting protection to foreigners within the territory of Poland.

In particular, the Border Guard said that removals had continued throughout the crisis period. Regarding forced repatriations that took place from 13 March to 10 April, the Border Guard reported that under the forced repatriation procedure, a total of 49 non-citizens were removed from the territory, of whom 29 had been detained in a “guarded centre,” which is a type of immigration detention facilities in Poland (see GDP report on Poland, link provided below in sources).

The Border Guard also said that removed non-citizens had been effectively transferred to the authorities of “third countries” concerned. No further details were provided about whether this implied deportation (or readmission) to third countries and if so to which.

The Border Guard did not provide any information regarding measures taken to protect migrants and asylum seekers released from immigration detention from Covid-19. However, concerning measures taken within immigration detention centres, the Chief Commandant of the Border Guard said that a uniform procedure had been introduced in all centres, based on the guidelines of the Chief Sanitary Inspector of the Ministry of the Interior and Administration. The procedure is aimed at preventing the spread of Covid-19 and at minimising the effects of the risk of infection. The procedures include:

– The obligation to carry out a medical examination of a detained migrant before their placement in a detention centre. When symptoms are present further actions are carried out in the same way as they would for citizens, including a Covid-19 test.

– After a person is admitted to an immigration detention centre, they are placed in preventive isolation from other persons for the purpose of observation by medical personnel and also subjected to a medical examination within the centre. The person will have minimal contact with others in isolation; only medical personnel, social workers, and security officers are authorised to contact them. Migrants placed in isolation have access to “virtual visits” by way of an “online communicator” or a telephone as well as access to everyday outdoor leisure activities.

– Measurement of the body temperature of all detainees as well as of everybody entering a centre; temperatures of detainees taken daily.

– Restriction of the activities of the detention centre staff requiring direct contact with migrants to the minimum necessary.
Prohibition of visits to the centres. In the detention centres for migrants, a strict prohibition of in-person visits has been introduced, replaced with so-called “virtual visits” using an electronic communicator.

– Restriction of the purchase of products for migrants to the minimum necessary, i.e. only to particularly justified cases.

According to the Commissioner for Human Rights, due to the current epidemiological situation, there have been amendments to Polish legislation under Act of 2 March 2020 on special solutions related to the prevention and combating of Covid-19, other infectious diseases and crisis situations caused by them, providing, inter alia, special solutions for non-citizens in Poland. Current regulations allow for legal stay in the country for persons who wish to remain or those that cannot leave Poland due to the spread of Covid-19.

The Act extends the deadlines (by approximately a month) for leaving Polish territory for non-citizens, under Article 299 p.6 of the Act on Foreigners (e.g. in connection with the delivery of a final decision refusing to grant a temporary residence permit), if these deadlines were to fall within the period of an epidemic emergency. In addition, the deadline for voluntary return specified in a decision to return a non-citizen, the end of which would fall within the period of an epidemic emergency, was extended. This means that such removals would take place 30 days following the lifting of the epidemic emergency. The same applies to deadlines for submitting applications for legalising one’s residence; the validity of issued work permits, seasonal work permits, and declarations on entrusting work to foreigners; as well as for applications for residence permit applications, visa extensions and extensions of stay under the visa-free regime.