Friday, April 04, 2008

Asylum seekers: A look at Poland's detention centres

In search of a better life, thousands of immigrants and asylum seekers risk their lives to try and get into the European Union each year. Many end up in detention centres around the borders of Europe - their future prospects uncertain. This week a group of MEPs from the Civil Liberties Committee were in Poland to see two centres for themselves and assess the conditions. They found conditions better than they had been led to believe although improvement is still possible.

The visits to the closed centres of Lesznowola near Warsaw and Biala Podlaska near Bialystok were part of a series of visits around Europe to asses the conditions of inmates. Such visits are a crucial part of wider preparations for a May vote by the European Parliament on a proposed Directive on the return of illegal immigrants. It proposes common standards and procedures in EU countries on the temporary custody and return of non-EU nationals. This will be a crucial vote for MEP as they will have equal weight in the law-making process with European Union Ministers meeting in the Council. German MEPs Manfred Weber (EPP-ED) has already drafted a report on this issue for the Civil Liberties Committee.

The majority of migrants in the centres are from Poland's neighbours Ukraine and Belarus, with over 90% of asylum seekers from Chechnya. The number of people trying to enter Poland has risen since the country joined the passport-free Schengen zone last year. This means that once someone is on Polish territory they can travel freely to other EU states.

The man who headed the delegation - French EPP-ED Member Patrick Gaubert - told us that conditions in the camp were better than reported. However, for British Liberal Bill Newton Dunn the existence of the Lesznowola centre raised questions about the EU's whole approach: "it underlines we have uncontrolled immigration all over Europe, it is a big European problem and we clearly need a policy to control the amount of immigration". He also said that the experience in Poland could offer lessons as the Union tries to build an EU asylum policy.

Polish Socialist Genowefa Grabowska, also a member of the fact finding mission, confirmed that Poland is a transit country for migrants looking for better economic conditions elsewhere in Europe. She described the Lesznowola centre as having six doctors specialising in different fields, a library and a Prayer room. Despite this she said, "there is still a lot to do to keep up with the highest EU standards". German Socialist Wolfgang Kreissl-Dörfler described the conditions as "clean and well kept".

Source: European Parliament