FECL 45 (July 1996):


The strict implementation of the "safe third country" rule by German border authorities is resulting in refugees being jailed as criminals in Poland, according to Forschungsgesellschaft Flucht und Migration (FFM), a German research centre on migration and refugee problems,.

After seven months of imprisonment on remand, 20 young Macedonian refugees were sentenced to several months of imprisonment each by a Court in the Polish city of Szcecin. The Macedonian youths’ only crime consisted in having attempted to enter Germany without visas - by crossing the "green" Polish-German border. The German Border Protection (Bundesgrenzschutz: BGS) stopped the 20 "undesirable aliens" and immediately sent them back to Poland - a "safe third country" according to the new German asylum law.

The 20 Macedonian youths were all set free on probation by the Szcecin Court since their detention on remand exceeded their prison sentences. In front of the judges, all of them declared that they could not return to the desperate situation in their home country. The only remaining option for them is to stay in Poland illegally.

FFM claims the case is not unique. For several months, this Berlin based research centre has been receiving evidence indicating that people arrested attempting to cross Poland’s border with Germany are being detained in prisons in north-western Poland. This reality, says FFM, flies into the face of the German government’s often reiterated assurances that returned refugees are granted "fair treatment" and access to an orderly asylum examination procedure in "safe third countries".

Together with the 20 Macedonian asylum seekers, the Szcecin Court also sentenced two of their countrymen living in Poland and two Poles, accused of having assisted the asylum seekers in their attempt to cross the border. Three of them were sentenced to prison terms between one and a half and two years.

Ironically, the sentences of the Szcecin Court are based on a law introduced by the former communist regime with a view to preventing its own citizens from leaving for the West. Under this law, "unauthorized exit" from Poland constitutes an offence.


A Polish demonstration for Germans asylum hard-liners?

FFM says that the Szcecin sentences must be considered an attempt to demonstrate to the Germans that Poland is willing to take firm action against undesirable refugees. Indeed, until recently, the Polish police merely stamped an order to leave the country legally in the passports of returnees from Germany and then set them free. This practice resulted in many asylum seekers making new attempts to cross the German border - often risking their lives, by swimming over the Oder or the Neisse at night. This situation increasingly irritated asylum hard-liners in the German government.

FFM representatives attending the Szcecin trial therefore were not astonished when they discovered two other German observers, who eventually turned out to be officers of the BGS, responsible for the arrest and return of the "illegal aliens". The two officers told the FFM observers that the Szcecin trial was "the result of the BGS’s investigation".


"Trafficking in human beings"?

The BGS, however, sharply rejected the claim of FFM that German authorities were trying to influence the Polish judiciary. In the view of the BGS, the German authorities are directly concerned by the Szcecin case, since two of the persons accused of assisting the 20 Macedonians in their attempt to enter Germany, are under investigation there for "trafficking in human beings".

Helmut Dietrich of FFM finds this term "rather absurd". Germany’s new restrictive asylum law is making illegal travelling part of asylum seekers’ everyday life, he says, and even the children and grandchildren of the generation of Yugoslav "guest workers" legally residing in Germany are being forced into illegal travelling, as the fairly cheap and formerly legal travel route from the Balkans to Szcecin is being closed. It is only natural that young people in particular continue their journey to their relatives and friends in Germany, even without a visa, Dietrich stresses. If they resort to the "commercialised assistance" of citizens of the transit countries and of countrymen living along the route, they are suddenly labelled as being part of operations of "trafficking in human beings", or even of "organised crime".

Indeed, in November 1995, a new paragraph of the Polish criminal code entered into force. Under the provision, the "creation of a criminal organisation" is punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment. According to FFM, the provision comprises "organised assistance" in "unauthorised exit".


Source: Frankfurter Rundschau, 5.7.96. For further information contact: FFM, Gneisenaustr. 2a, D-10961 Berlin.