Poland: UNHCR welcomes decision on Chechens

Briefing Notes, 19 November 2002

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Kris Janowski to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 19 November 2002, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR welcomes Poland's decision last weekend to allow a group of 150 Russian Federation nationals from Chechnya to enter the country and seek asylum there. They are the first Chechens to be allowed to seek asylum in Poland in weeks. The Polish authorities had decided to bar Chechens from entering the country following the October 23 terrorist attack on a Moscow theatre by Chechen separatists. The decision sparked protests by the UNHCR and human rights groups. UNHCR has urged Poland not to close its doors to Chechen asylum seekers.

UNHCR hopes that the admission of 150 Chechens to Poland last weekend represents a permanent return of Poland's policy of open doors to Chechen asylum seekers. This year alone 1,638 Russian Federation nationals virtually all of them Chechens had asked for asylum in Poland.

UNHCR continues to be concerned about the situation in neighbouring Lithuania, which earlier this month barred 26 Chechens mostly women and children from entering the country and applying for asylum. UNHCR hopes that Lithuania will follow Poland's example and reopen its doors to Chechens.