What is unique about Warsaw?
Wide range of services for migrants: Despite the lack of any coherent local policy on the arrival of migrants and refugees, Warsaw has a broad range of services for migrants. As the capital and largest city in Poland, Warsaw was the first to experience the diversity connected with migration movements. The presence of a large number of immigrants helped initiate a number of inclusive measures taken by municipal public institutions and social organisations, including those established by migrants themselves.
What is the focus of local migration policies?
Migration Centres jointly run by the city and civil society: In Warsaw, migrants can use their own organisations as platforms to propose and implement their own projects. Warsaw's Multicultural Centre and the Social Dialogue Committee for Foreigners stand out as particularly effective examples of cooperation between the city and civil society. Some of these organisations have been active for years, and have become a permanent feature of Warsaw’s social activities.
What are the key factors?
Civic engagement and the local administration: Together with civil society, individual municipal offices and a number of coordinating institutions are the most important actors in migration policy. The city also funds a number of NGO projects working on migration.
Political activities and advocacy beyond the city level
The Mayor of Warsaw Rafał Trzaskowski (Political Party: Platforma Obywatelska) has signed declarations emphasising the positive contributions of migrants and refugees, and promoting openness. In June of 2018, Warsaw signed the UNHCR Cities #WithRefugees declaration and the declaration by the Union of Polish Metropolises calling for greater cooperation on the issue of migration. In September of 2020, Warsaw issued a statement expressing its willingness to offer shelter to children and families who were victims of the Lesbos refugee camp fire.
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The city report contains more information about the city’s migration and inclusion policies and selected local approaches. Report from 2021, updated in 2023.
Political context of Poland
Migration policy in Poland
There is no binding central document formulating the Polish state's migration policy. In 2016, a year after taking power, the new government led by the right-wing Law and Justice Party (PiS) revoked the policy paper “Polish Migration Policy – Current Status and Proposed Action”. PiS justified the decision by pointing to the change in Poland’s migration situation (which has hosted a very dynamic inflow of economic migrants since 2014), and in Europe. So far, however, the new government has not adopted a new policy. Nevertheless, in practice a major change has already taken place in asylum policy, while the policy towards on voluntary migration remains basically the same as it was before the 2015 change of government.
Key developments of recent years
“The refugee issue”
The so-called "Refugee Crisis” did not directly affect Poland, as Poland is neither a destination country, nor a transit country for refugees arriving from the Middle East or Africa and heading to Western Europe. Over the years, asylum seekers crossing Polish borders have mostly come from the former republics of the Soviet Union (mainly Chechnya, but also Tajikistan). In the years 2014-2015, due to the conflict in East Ukraine, approximately 2,300 Ukrainians applied for refugee status per year.
In 2015, the Polish government agreed to implement both the relocation and resettlement programmes proposed by the European Commission under the European Agenda on Migration (EAM). However, after the parliamentary elections in autumn 2015, the new government withdrew from these programmes, a decision that was in line with its election campaign promises. Over the last few years, the Polish government, as well as the governments of other Visegrad countries, have rejected proposals to distribute asylum seekers from southern Europe in other parts of Europe.
Another significant dent in refugee Poland’s migration policy has come from the partial “closure” of Poland’s eastern border for asylum seekers. Since 2016, Polish border guards have simply not accepted applications for international protection and have been denying refugees entry to the country. Lawsuits against this policy have been successful both in Polish courts and in the European Court of Human Rights, but the border remains closed. The number of applications for international protection has thus decreased since 2017 – shrinking from over 12,000 in 2015 to just over 4,000 in 2019.
Internal security sits at the heart of the current government's public rhetoric regarding refugees. Statements by both individual politicians and governmental documents clearly exhibit an anti-Islamic bias. At the same time, however, many politicians speak with understanding about migrants from Ukraine or – more recently – Belarus. Poland used its acceptance of a large number of Ukrainians to justify its refusal to participate in the European relocation programme. However, the vast majority of Ukrainians who have come to Poland since 2014 did not apply for international protection, but entered instead on the basis of documents issued in connection with work or education. Similarly, Belarussians have not generally applied for international protection. As of October 2020, only 264 Belarussians have applied for international protection in Poland. In the case of Belarussians, entering Poland is also possible with a humanitarian visa (not to mention work, student, or tourist visas).
Before and since 2015, as far as voluntary migration is concerned, Polish governments have adopted similar migration policies in response to socio-economic trends. These measures are aimed at offsetting demographic changes, as well as meeting labour market demands. The Polish state does not really pursue an active recruitment policy. Migrants come to Poland primarily in response to job or studying opportunities rather than as a result of planned measures dedicated to building a specific reservoir pool (“back-up”) of human resources.
It is estimated that foreign workers currently account for about 5% of the workforce in Poland. The vast majority of them are Ukrainians. Polish law is primarily favourable to the circular migration of workers originating from eastern Europe. Thus, citizens of Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Moldova, Armenia and Georgia have easier access to the Polish labour market. Migrants are mainly employed in unskilled jobs. This is on the one hand due to the demands of the labour market, but on the other to legal restrictions regarding the (non) recognition of foreign certificates and qualifications.
Existing inclusion measures
Although the state supports temporary migration and immigration from eastern Europe, it does very little in the area of integration. Existing legal regulations obligate authorities to provide integration assistance only to people who have received international protection status. Such persons can benefit from state-funded Individual Integration Programmes (IIP). However, IIPs only last only for a year and are considered ineffective, especially in terms of learning Polish and entering the labour market.
In the absence of a horizontal integration policy at the national level, some of the largest cities implement their own, more or less comprehensive, integration policies. Migrants may also benefit from the support offered by civic organisations. However, such activities have an uneven effect because they are often individual, local projects that are limited both in terms of scope and duration.