On 19 November, the Committee against Torture provided its concluding observations and recommendations on Poland’s implementation of the Convention against Torture. The Committee recommends that Poland guarantees fair treatment of asylum seekers at all stage of proceedings which includes ensuring the opportunity for effective and impartial review by an independent mechanism of decisions on expulsion, return or extradition with suspensive effect. Furthermore, Poland should refrain from detaining asylum-seekers, including children, and guarantee access to independent, qualified and free legal advice and representation for all, including those who are in or may face detention. The Committee also recommends that Poland take all necessary measures to ensure that torture victims within the asylum process are identified and provided with required support, including treatment and counselling.
Karolina Rusilowicz, at the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, told the ECRE Weekly Bulletin that the NGO is concerned about the extensive use of detention. People who seek asylum in Poland for the first time are detained for crossing the border irregularly or, according to the authorities, to prevent them from abusing the asylum procedure. Syrian refugees without identification and families with children are also detained.
While the Committee against Torture welcomed that alternatives to detention will be introduced by means of an amendment to the Aliens Act due to enter into force on May 2014, it was concerned about the possibility of detaining children in guarded centres or in prison-like conditions for the purpose of deportation, without providing them with access to qualified free legal assistance. The Committee also criticised Poland’s non-compliance with the principle of non-refoulement enshrined in the Refugee Convention, i.e. sending back a person to a country where there was a risk of being subjected to torture without having access to an effective remedy before an impartial and independent body with suspensive effect. The Committee raised further concerns about the lack of a proper legal aid system, effective mechanisms to identify torture victims during asylum procedures based on the Istanbul Protocol as well as the absence of preventive and punitive measures to address the increase in hate speech and intolerance directed against minority groups, such as Roma.
The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights submitted a comprehensive shadow report to the Committee against Torture, emphasising the problems encountered by asylum seekers, such as the absence of free quality interpretation, access to legal aid, free qualified legal assistance and general access to a court to challenge deportation orders where there was a risk of being subjected to torture.