Asylum Rights: Welcome, you’ve just been Dublined
18 January 2011
Karina and Rouslan fled from Chechnya to France, before being deported back to Poland, their point of entry into the EU. Le Monde reports on an absurd itinerary dictated by the Dublin II regulation.
She has a fond recollection of the French town of Tours in the August sunshine back in 2008. "It was so pretty and clean." Then she laughs as she remembers walks in the park with their more fortunate Chechen friends, who had also come to France via Poland a few years earlier. At the time, Karina was pregnant and both she and Rouslan were convinced that they were out of danger, but their happiness did not last long. They were soon returned to the special limbo reserved for rejected refugees.
Just a few days later, the couple in their mid-twenties rejoined the invisible army of stateless asylum seekers in Europe. And in retrospect, the mistake was their own fault. They were foolish enough to voluntarily register at the Préfecture in Tours – and to return a few days later, when they were invited to come "to collect their papers."
They will never forget what happened when they arrived at the administrative office: the plainclothes police that suddenly appeared at the counter, the night spent in the station, and the journey sitting handcuffed in the police van that took them to Roissy airport. The dream had come to an end. Karina no longer smiles, when her thoughts return to their present circumstances. Their lives have been suspended in Poland – in a place that is only half-an-hour’s drive from Warsaw, but which seems light-years away from France.
The police in Tours were the first to announce the cause of their misfortune: Dublin. In 2003, the Irish capital gave its name to the Dublin II regulation, which applies in all of the countries of the European Union including Poland, a member of the EU since 2004. According to Dublin II, the country of entry – in other words, the first EU country where an asylum seeker sets foot (or has their fingerprints taken) – is the country where their demand for asylum must be processed.
Asylum seekers that are found to be residing in a jurisdiction that is not responsible for the processing of their applications will be forcibly returned there immediately. "We thought the worst was over when we crossed the border into France,” explains Rouslan. “But little did we know!"
Hardly any difference between detention centres and prisons
Having been deported, the couple and their child ended up in the countryside west of Warsaw, living in a single tiny room rented for a small fortune in a house shared with two other Chechen families. Such is the fate of the more fortunate ”Dublined” refugees, as they are referred to by the local asylum-seeker organisations, who now number several thousand in Poland.
Following a bid to live elsewhere in Europe, which usually ends with their arrest by police, the "Dublined" refugees are obsessed by the idea of trying to leave again. Poland, which entered the Schengen Area in 2007, "remains a country of transit" for migrants, as Krystyna Iglicka of Warsaw’s Centre for International Relations and Magdalena Ziolek-Skrzypczak of the Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich point out in their study on migration, published by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) last September.
As another Polish researcher, Paulina Nikiel, explains in Migreurop’s European Borders report published in November, “Schengen has been a fool’s game for the new countries which joined from 2004 to 2007," which has mainly resulted in a "redeployment of repressive mechanisms." Ms Nikiel goes on to argue that the sealing of its borders has made Poland a “buffer state” which is now called on to become "a destination country" – a bit like Morocco, which has also been encouraged to absorb many would-be immigrants for other states.
However, as the president of the Poland-Chechnya Committee, Anna Kuhn, explains, Poland "does not have the resources that are available in richer countries like France, Belgium and Germany." And although the reception of refugees has been significantly improved over the last five years, asylum seekers that wind up there still face conditions that are from idyllic.
There is hardly any difference between the detention centres and prisons: "Freedom of movement is restricted to going to and from the toilets and one hour of exercise a day," notes Paulina Nikiel. For the most part, the only crime of the asylum seekers and undocumented aliens, including "entire families with children," who are held in these closed centres is to have crossed or attempted to cross a border illegally. At the end of a stay of several months which can last a maximum of a year, they are are simply sent back out into the streets.
Warsaw is careful not to offend Vladimir Putin’s regime
Only a rare few of the 10,500 asylum seekers who registered in 2009 saw their applications accepted. "From 1992 to 2009, just 3,113 of them obtained refugee status," or only 3.5% as Iglicka and Ziolek-Skrzypczak point out in their study. The miraculous survivors included a number of Chechens, as well as Bosnian, Somalian, Belarusian, Afghan, Sri Lankan and Iraqi nationals. However, Georgians have almost no chance of success. More than 4,000 of them sought asylum in Poland 2009, but none of their applications were retained. In view of these conditions, it is hardly surprising that most migrants prefer to try their luck further west – a situation that has swelled the ranks of the “Dublined” masses.
"France and Austria were the first countries to systematically send back large numbers of Chechens to Poland," explains Issa Adayev, who has recently opened the Other Space foundation’s reception centre for refugees. And it is a policy that the Chechen activist deplores, because once they arrive in Poland, they are only one step away from being sent back to Russia. Cases of Chechens who are deported to Moscow and subsequently “disappear” are “not unusual,” and large numbers of them have been reported missing in recent years.
Like many other European capitals including Paris, Vienna and Berlin, Warsaw is careful not to offend Vladimir Putin’s regime. Only a few years ago France’s Minister for Immigration, Brice Hortefeux, wrote to the country’s prefects to inform that the practice "of returning refugees to Poland on the basis of Dublin II was not desirable" in view of the risks associated with the situation in Chechnya and the possibility that they would be sent back to Russia via Belarus or Ukraine, but times have changed. That was back in July 2007, however, a year later the French government reversed its policy on the issue – around about the time Rouslan and Karina went on the road.
Translated from the French by Mark Mc Govern