UNHCR welcomes Poland's decision to reopen doors to Chechens

In a policy reversal, Poland has allowed 150 Chechen asylum seekers to enter the country after protests against an earlier decision to turn them away. The UN refugee agency says it hopes this is a permanent decision, and that Lithuania will follow suit.

Chechens in war-torn Grozny. More than 1,600 of them have sought asylum in Poland so far this year.   © UNHCR/L.van der Stockt

GENEVA, November 19 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has welcomed Poland's decision to reopen its doors to Chechen asylum seekers over the weekend, weeks after it barred their entry in the wake of a Chechen attack in Moscow. At the same time, UNHCR expressed hope that Lithuania would follow Poland's positive example.

Last weekend, Poland allowed a group of 150 Russian Federation nationals from Chechnya to enter the country and seek asylum there. The policy reversal occurred after UNHCR protested an earlier decision by Polish authorities to bar Chechens from entering the country following the October 23 terrorist attack on a Moscow theatre.

"We hope that the admission of the Chechens to Poland last weekend represents a permanent return of Poland's policy of open doors to Chechen asylum seekers," said UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski at a press briefing in Geneva Tuesday.

Poland, a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention, has seen 1,638 asylum applications from Russian Federation nationals - virtually all of them Chechens - this year alone.

UNHCR's Janowski also expressed hope that Lithuania would follow Poland's example and reopen its doors to Chechens. Despite being a signatory of the 1951 Convention, Lithuania refused entry to 26 Chechens in early November and returned them to Belarus, upon which 17 of them were deported to Moscow. Their current whereabouts are unknown.