Steep rise in number of asylum seekers as Poland joins Schengen Zone
This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
Since July, Poland has seen a steep increase in the number of asylum seekers, particularly Chechens and Ingush from the Russian Federation.
In the first 11 months of 2007, there were 4,931 new applications for asylum in Poland, of which 3,555, or roughly 70 percent, were lodged after June.
While the monthly average of new applications during the first half of this year was 250, figures increased to 335 in July, reaching 1,148 in November.
The most likely reason for the increase in new arrivals is Poland's accession to the Schengen Zone today (21 December), and fears that it will lead to stricter border controls. There are reports that smugglers have been intentionally spreading rumours among potential asylum seekers that their access to Polish territory would be hampered after 21 December, thus encouraging more people to go to Poland before today's deadline. Also, some asylum seekers erroneously hoped that, once in Poland, they would be able to move freely throughout the Schengen Zone.
The increase is leading to an overcrowding of reception facilities in Poland. There are currently over 5,300 people staying in 20 separate reception facilities, as compared to 3,550 people in 17 reception facilities a year ago. The current influx has forced the Polish Government to increase the number of reception facilities in order to accommodate all the new arrivals.