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Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Poland: asylum seekers' hunger strike at 'reception' centre

from Reuters AlertNet:

A hunger strike in a reception centre for asylum seekers near Warsaw, which has just ended, highlighted the asylum problems facing Poland and other new European Union countries, and emphasised the need for a better system for burden-sharing among EU countries.

For almost two weeks, a group of 200 asylum seekers at Debak reception centre near the Polish capital refused to collect meals from the centre's canteen. "We demand that Poland opens safe passage to Western Europe," wrote the protesters in a petition against their living conditions. "There is no hot water, food is not good, we have no warm clothes, there is no education for our children. Why does Poland accept us if it cannot help us?"
Confused about their legal status and uncertain about their future, the asylum seekers feel frustrated that there seems to be no one who can help them with their problems. Polish non-governmental organisations visit the centres occasionally to offer free legal advice and counselling, but do not come regularly because of time and financial constraints. Likewise, the two psychologists available cannot possibly listen to every asylum seeker and refugee in need.
"The most important demand is not written, it is about how people feel," said Khamzat Aslanbekov, one of the leaders of Chechen community in Poland. "Chechens are a proud people, sensitive about our dignity. We are adults, but are treated like the worse kind of men. People can't stand it. We only want to be treated with respect."

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