Our mission:

Free of charge legal assistance for foreigners as

a guarantee of human rights.


The project is co-funded by the "Internal Affairs" Programme implemented under the Norwegian Funds for 2014 - 2021. Programme is at the disposal of the Minister of Interior and Administration.


in project related matters: 


Helsińska Fundacja Praw Człowieka

ul. Wiejska 16 00-490 Warszawa

Strona www stworzona w kreatorze WebWave.

Refugees in open centers or in detention?

06 June 2023

A person applying for refugee status in Poland may be sent to one of two types of centers for foreigners for the duration of their application: open or guarded. They differ in many aspects, but one feature definitely stands out - placing a foreigner in a guarded center results in deprivation of liberty for the period of stay there.


For this reason, the court, at the request of the Border Guard, should place a foreigner in a guarded center only as a last resort, when there are strictly defined legal conditions, such as a high risk of escape. Despite this and numerous arguments in favor of open centers, sending people applying for refugee status to guarded centers is unfortunately a common practice in the Polish procedure.


The easiest way to show the difference between open and gaurded centers is to mention only some of the problems in guarded centers. First of all, as already indicated, staying in such a center directly limits numerous personal rights, including generally understood freedom. While remaining in closed conditions, people staying there cannot leave the premises of the center or even move freely around it. Even under the language of the relevant regulation, foreigners are staying in "residential cells." Moreover, since they remain locked up there, they are forced to use only the living conditions and services provided by the center.


As indicated by the report of the Polish Ombudsman, which is still largely relevant due to the presence of, among others, bars on the windows, these centers may evoke associations with prisons, which they should not be. The problem of overpopulation was also noticed. The report also indicates major problems with access to medical and psychological help. Psychological help is particularly needed in such a place due to the negative impact of detention on mental health. Cutting off from the world, hierarchical relations with the center's authorities or deprivation of liberty are factors that have a very negative impact on the psychophysical health of people staying there.


There is also an alternative in the Polish system to the extreme solution outlined above, which are open centers for asylum seekers. It is not an institution without defects, but it has significantly fewer of them than guarded centers. For this reason, according to the law, the primary form of stay of a foreigner while waiting for the consideration of his application for refugee status should be placement in an open center. Despite this, the decision-making policies of courts and the Border Guard are unfairly different.


A person applying for refugee status staying in an open center can, above all, leave it freely. They can also actually benefit from social rights granted to them by the Act on granting protection to foreigners in the territory of the Republic of Poland, such as financial assistance. After 6 months from the start of the refugee procedure, foreigners can take up paid employment, and their children can attend local schools. Although this is not an ideal solution, it certainly has a much smaller negative impact on the mental health and well-being of the people staying there. The possibility of leaving the center also allows newly arrived foreigners to integrate with Polish society, as does the possibility of finding a job. Most importantly, however, a person applying for refugee status waits for the decision, which can take many months, in conditions that may not be ideal, but certainly much less violating their rights and freedoms than those in guarded center.


By placing a foreigner in a guarded center instead of an open one, state authorities unilaterally acknowledge the value of possible and, in the vast majority of cases, not threatened public security, while marginalizing the rights and freedoms of the person seeking asylum.


Meanwhile, wider use of open centers is in the interest of both sides in the proceedings. Open centers provide greater opportunities for integration with Polish society, while respecting constitutional and conventional values, which is in the interest not only of foreigners, but also of the authorities.