What refugee status for Belarusians in Poland means and why it shouldn’t frighten you 

What refugee status for Belarusians in Poland means and why it shouldn’t frighten you
Photo: Unsplash / Ang

82.4 million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes for fear of persecution, conflict, or human rights violations. Around 30 million people in the world are recognized as refugees, and every second of them is a child.

Over the past year, many Belarusian citizens have been forced to leave their country due to repression. More than 1,500 Belarusians have applied for international protection in Poland alone.

What associations does the word «refugee» have? For many, it is an unpleasant, repulsive word, soaked with a sense of suffering, coldness, and children’s tears.

Many Belarusians often say, «I don’t want to be a refugee and I don’t want to lose Belarusian citizenship, my home, or myself» or «I want to work and pay taxes and not live in a refugee camp on a small government allowance.»

All these doubts, fears, and the understanding of the concept of a refugee are based on prejudices that have been formed and built up over the years.

What is a refugee? Legal framework for the protection of the rights of refugees

On July 28, 1951, at a special United Nations Conference, in an act of international solidarity after two world wars came the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees was adopted. The document is still the foundation for the protection of refugees around the world, and 145 countries are signatories to it. In 2021, we are celebrating its 70th anniversary while lamenting the fact that the Convention is still relevant.

According to the Convention, a refugee is a person who can become a victim of persecution in their country because of their religion (or absence of religion), ethnic origin (race), membership of a particular social group (women, labor movement, or journalists), nationality, or political views and is unable to be afforded protection in their own country.

Persecution can come from different segments of the population, but most often it refers to the actions of a country’s authorities. State bodies that must bear the constitutional duty to protect the rights and freedoms of their citizens often persecute, humiliate, and destroy their own population.

This is the reality. Now let’s look at the main myths.

Myth 1: a recognized refugee loses their citizenship

The decision to grant refugee status is a kind of residence permit that is issued for an indefinite period due to the threat of persecution. At the same time, a refugee remains a citizen of their country and can return if they consider that it is safe and that the threat of persecution is gone.

Of course, upon returning home refugee status can be canceled, since the refugee has returned to their country and international protection is no longer needed.

Myth 2: refugees are required to live in a camp

The overwhelming majority of Belarusian refugees live in Poland outside camps. During the process for obtaining international protection (refugee status and subsidiary protection), you can not only live independently outside a camp, but travel around Poland.

Myth 3: refugees are required to live in Poland after their paperwork is processed

After obtaining refugee status, you can travel within the European Union without a visa for up to 90 days for tourism. In addition, you can live and work in other countries. The restriction is connected only to the possible legalization of one’s stay in a new country.

Myth 4: Refugees cannot work and must receive state benefits for life

According to Polish law, it is possible to legally work while an application for recognition of international protection (refugee status and subsidiary protection) is under consideration following 6-month review period.

However, if there is a reason for exemption from obtaining a work permit – possessing a humanitarian or Poland. Business. Harbor visa, a Polish Card (Karta Polyaka), or is a university student or doctoral student enrolled full time at a higher educational institution in Poland – then you can work throughout the entire process.

After obtaining refugee status, one has free access to the labor market, meaning the possibility of employment without the need to obtain additional permission. You can also conduct business as an individual or in the form of a legal entity.

Myth 5: refugees can never become full-fledged members of society

We would never guess that many famous people were persecuted due to their beliefs but were able to build a new life and achieve success.

Among these are actor Jackie Chan, Nobel laureate Dalai Lama XIV, psychologist Sigmund Freud, physicist Albert Einstein, writer Vladimir Nabokov, politician Henry Kissinger, and many others.

Citizens of Belarus today cannot find justice in their own country. Tens of thousands have been arrested, thousands have been imprisoned, thousands have been tortured, and several have died.

The article was prepared by a participant of the SlovakAid scholarship program.

Материал доступен на русском языке: Что такое статус беженца для беларусов в Польше и почему его не стоит бояться?