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International protection in Poland: 2020 overview

Looking back at 2020 we can find out that there were two main tendencies that characterised migration trends to Poland. On the one hand, in 2020 number of people, non-EU citizens, who decided to settle down in Poland increased and statistics of various institutions (Office for Foreigners (UdSC), Social Insurance Institution (ZUS) or Central Statistical Office (GUS)) were dominated by economic migration. According to the Office for Foreigners, 281,000 applications for residence permits (+ 12% compared to 2019) were submitted by non-EU citizens during 2020.

But, on the other hand, the rate of forced migration continued to decrease. During the last year 2 800 people submitted applications for international protection, which constituted only 1% of the total number of applications (residence permits and international protection together) and confirmed almost 32% decline in number of people seeking protection in Poland comparing to 2019. The downward trend in asylum application numbers was related to temporal restrictions provided as anti-COVID-19 measures. First of all, the closure of national external borders and reduction of border crossing points between Poland and its neighbours - Russia Federation, Belarus and Ukraine -  hindered arrivals of asylum seekers. Secondly, human rights organisation reported violation of the right to asylum as authorities suspended asylum application directly on the border for a few months. But, despite the health crisis, decrease in asylum application reflects the general  political approach of the right-wing government, known for its anti-refugee rhetoric, to minimise this path of migration to Poland. 

Application for protection in 2020

Citizenship of applicants 

In 2020 Poland received 2800 applications for international protection, including 1500 first-time applications.  The major group of applicants for international protection during 2020 were citizens of Russian Federation (1283 people),  mainly Chechens (1098 people). Other four top countries of origin of asylum seekers were Belarus, Ukraine, Afganistan and Tajikistan. 

The significant increase in application was noticed for Belarus citizens. An onward trend in migration from Belarus to Poland was related to the political turmoil and repressions, started after the presidential elections on 9 August 2020. Since the political crisis emerged, despite the temporal suspension of movement on external borders, Polish government provided new legal solutions to facilitate legal border crossing and access to legalisation procedures for Belarus citizens. The procedure of national humanitarian visa was implemented.  Although the other forms of legal entry and stay prevails (students and work visas, visas on the basis of Pole’s cards), more than ever before people from Belarus applied for protection. The office for Foreigners estimates +1000%  increase in numbers of asylum seekers from the neighbouring country. 

The second group of asylum seekers, which increased despite the general drop in numbers of applications for protection in Poland, were Afghans (+94% compared to 2019). 

Age and gender 

It is worth to mention the demographic profile of asylum seekers in Poland. In 2020 nearly 41% of applicants for international protection were women and 38% were children. Such proportion of women and minors among all asylum seekers in Poland  was the highest comparing to other EU states. 

Recognition rate 

The other fact noticed from the state statistics is the disproportion in relation to numbers of asylum applicants and decisions on protection. In 2020 the Head of the Office for Foreigners issued 3500 decisions, where 59% were negative (rejection of international protection). The recognition rate in 2020 was only 16% what remained to be below the average for the EU+ (33% in 2019 according to European Asylum Support Office estimated). 

In 2020 only 399 people received refugee status or subsidiary protection in Poland. They were mainly citizens of Turkey  (85),  Belarus (81),  Russia Federation (76), Ukraine (28) and Tajikistan (27). For comparison, 2100 people held negative decisions, while over one thousand cases were discontinued.  Refusals concerned mostly people from Russia Federation ( 1300), Ukraine (314) and Tajikistan (63).

Political background 

In 2020 the right-wing ruling Law and Justice party maintained anty-migrant, especially anti-asylum rhetoric in its internal (providing further restrictions  in access to asylum) and international policies.  In December 2020 Poland and other V4 partners submitted the common position on the New Pact on Migration and Asylum highlighting the importance of principle of sovereign discretion concerning asylum policy with the impact on border control and return mechanism.

In 2020 Poland was accused twice for failure to meet international obligation and  violation of basic principles of international protection. In April, the Court of Justice of the European Union stated  that the partners of the Visegrad Group  - Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic - had breached their obligations under European law by refusing relocations of applicants for international protection.  In July 2020 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Poland had violated several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights refusing asylum applications on the border crossing point in Terespol and returning people, Chechen nationals, to Belarus. 

Although international institutions pointed that Poland had broken EU and international asylum law twice, the government rejected allegations. The Polish authorities confirmed the position to refuse any of international obligations concerning relocations as indispensable to improve national security  and social cohesion of  Polish society . 
Kseniya Homel 
NIEM’s researcher 
The European and Migration Policy Programme
Institute of Public Affairs


Poland elaborates mechanism of temporary protection for people from Belarus 
Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic “failed to fulfill their obligations under European Union law” – the ECJ ruled
Latest Asylum Trends [access 01.02.2021]
Asylum statistics [access 01.02.2021]
Social Insurance Institution: Cudzoziemcy w polskim systemie ubezpieczeń społecznych
Central Statistical Office: Populacja cudzoziemców w Polsce w czasie COVID-19
The Office for Foreigners, Ochrona międzynarodowa w 2020 r.
The New Pact on Migration and Asylum - a common position of V4 countries, Estonia and Slovenia