Between 5 and 9 September, immigration detainees in Poland’s Przemysl detention centre (Guarded Centre for Aliens) held a hunger strike against “arbitrary detention” and their prolonged detention in the centre. Taking place against a backdrop of growing anti-migrant rhetoric in the run up to the country’s October elections and referendum, this was the largest collective hunger strike to-date.
According to Grupa Granica, an organisation which assists migrants in Poland, up to 70 people participated in the strike at the centre, which has a detainee population of 100. Amongst their demands, strikers called for access to healthcare, ability to connect with friends and family through social media, and a guarantee that detainees’ rights will be respected. In particular, they called for an end to lengthy detention periods. As one detainee explained to Balkan Insight, detainees in the centre have no idea when they will leave the centre. “Even criminals in prisons know when they will be released,” he said.
The strike reportedly ended soon after masked men stormed into cells within the centre on 8 September, and beat detainees with sticks.
Since 2021, the numbers of migrants and asylum seekers entering Poland has increased, largely due to significant numbers of arrivals entering from Belarus. Many are pushed back into Belarus, while most of those who successfully reach Poland are arrested and detained. According to the Polish Border Guard, by the end of August some 19,000 people had attempted to enter Poland from Belarus this year, compared to 16,000 throughout 2022. According to Grupa Granica, 1,008 foreigners were placed in immigration detention during the first half of 2023.
The country’s ruling party, the Law and Justice Party (PiS), has responded with discriminatory and belligerent language focused on the “defence” of the eastern border from “illegal migrants.” In an attempt to legitimise these policies, on 15 October PiS will hold a referendum (on the same day as the national elections) which includes questions regarding the country’s migrant and refugee policy. Two of the referendum’s four questions are:
- “Do you support the removal of the barrier on the border between the Republic of Poland and the Republic of Belarus?”
- “Do you support the admission of thousands of illegal immigrants from the Middle East and Africa, in accordance with the forced relocation mechanism imposed by European bureaucracy?”
The referendum has been extensively criticised by rights groups. According to the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, the explanatory annex contains deliberately leading information, which “directly suggests the ‘correct’ way to vote. Information spots contain false, simplified information, use rhetorical and emotional manipulations and intentionally create a sense of threat in the recipient.”
The group adds: “Human rights, including the rights of migrants and refugees, are fundamental and inalienable rights of every individual, and their protection should not be left to a politically motivated, populist referendum.”