Foreign students locked up in Poland after fleeing Ukraine

They studied computer science, management, in Kharkiv, Lutsk or even Bila Tserkva… and now they are locked up in a detention center for foreigners about forty kilometers from Warsaw, after having fled the war in ukraine. This is revealed by the Radio France survey, Wednesday March 23, carried out in collaboration with various international media and with the support of the NGO Lighthouse Reports.

>> At the Polish border, “Ukrainian guards beat us with sticks”, say foreign students

“I did not expect to find myself in this situation fleeing to Poland, as if I were a criminal,” Samuel (first name has been changed) testifies by phone, a student from Kharkiv, in northeastern Ukraine. After traveling to kyiv, then to Lviv (near the Polish border), the young Nigerian explains that he crossed the border on February 27 with his student card, since his passport stayed at the university for reasons administrative. “But when I arrived in Poland, the border guards told me they couldn’t let me go, because I don’t have a passport, and that’s why I had to be detained.” remember the one who has a family in Germany, locked up for more than three weeks.

However, on February 25, Michał Dworczyk, chief of staff of the Polish prime minister, assured that “Anyone fleeing the war would be welcome in Poland, especially people without a passport.” “It is difficult not to see racism there”, observes Małgorzata Rycharska, from the NGO Hope & Humanity Poland, who adds “Not understanding why these people were locked up.” Contacted, the Cameroon embassy in Berlin, which has so far identified three of its nationals in these closed centers, also expressed surprise. And it ensures that the Cameroonian students had valid identity documents with them.

Twenty non-Ukrainians from Ukraine are currently detained in the Lesznowola center, among whom we have so far identified four students of African origin. In total, there would be 52 foreigners fleeing Ukraine sent to these closed centers from February 24 to March 15, according to a letter from border guards addressed to MP Tomasz Anisko.

Letter from the Polish border guards indicating that 52 non-Ukrainians fleeing from Ukraine were sent from February 24 to March 15 to centers for foreigners.  (DOCUMENT OF RADIO FRANCE)

Contacted, the border guards indicate that they cannot give more information, for reasons of identity protection. For its part, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) explains “Note three centers in Poland where third-country nationals arriving from Ukraine, without proper travel documents, are brought in for identity checks” but specifies not to include Lesznowola’s.

“We are students from Ukraine, we don’t deserve to be here,” Samuel denounces, adding that he does not understand why he is in a center where immigrants who tried to illegally cross the border with Belarus last year are locked up. Gabriel (first name has been changed), another Nigerian student studying at the National Institute of Trade and Economics in Kharkiv, tells her that when he arrived in Poland, “The border guards took our phones by force.” In a telephone interview with a representative of the Nigerian diaspora, obtained by Radio France, Gabriel said he was forced to seek international protection in Poland. “If they didn’t tell me I was going to jail.” Pending the decision, he was sent to this closed camp where he has been since the end of February, describing “a very bad situation.”

Gabriel (not his real name) was a student at the Institute of Trade and Economics in Kharkiv, Ukraine.  (DOCUMENT OF RADIO FRANCE)

If in theory, Polish law allows internment in closed centers in case of asylum application in very precise situations (in case of risk, for example, that the person escapes during the procedure), the practice differs. Warsaw had already been singled out by the UN for the systematic detention of migrants and refugees during the crisis on the border with Belarus last year. “A lot of people here have gone crazy, I’m scared, there are some who have been here nine months,” it scared Gabriel. Pas d’accès à des avocats, telephones avec camera withdrawn, internet access d’una vingtaine de minutes par jour seulement… The student, who indicates être passé devant a court, menottes aux poignets, explain never avoir voulu demander l’asile Poland. “We were just students, he repeat. They should deport me and let me go back to Nigeria, but even that can sometimes take six months.” He cares.


Poll: Maud Jullien, Halima Salat Barre, Jack Sapoch, Daniel Howden, May Bulman, Nadine White, Steffen Lüdke, Hélène Bienvenu, Sarah Bakaloglou.

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