A hunger strike by a group of Syrian asylum seekers being detained in a closed center south of Warsaw is into its ninth day. The men say they have been treated "like criminals".
Munzer, Ghith, Shadee, Rami and Mousa began their protest at the Lesznowola Guarded Center for Foreigners in Poland on April 19. It was a move prompted by frustration and loss of hope, they said.
"We are sorry we are doing this," the men wrote in a letter in English to the Office for Foreigners and the manager of the center, as they began the hunger strike.
The letter said they were feeling intense psychological pressure and exhaustion "especially with … the harsh experience that we went through in Syria and Belarus."
They crossed the Polish border from Belarus "illegally", the letter continued, because they had no other option. They have been given no convincing reason for their detention at the facility, where they have remained for more than two months.
"The conditions in Lesznowola are not bad, but it is not about the conditions, but about the fact that we are treated like criminals," one of the men told OKO.press. The 39-year-old left Syria in 2021 because he did not want to be drafted into the army, he said. He gave the Polish authorities all the information they requested and he could not understand why he was being locked up.
The Lesznowola center is in a relatively isolated area about 15 kilometers south of the Polish capital Warsaw. Social media videos and photos by the Polish Border Guard (Straż Graniczna) show a well-equipped and clean facility with a gym, computer rooms, prayer rooms, a library and large areas outside for sport and relaxation.
In a tweet this week the border guard said that EU commissioner Ylva Johansson had "positively assessed the conditions in the center" during a visit in February.
In fact what Commissioner Johansson wrote was that her visit to the center showed there was "a possibility [our emphasis] to apply humane living conditions," which, she continued, "Must be matched with efficient, fair asylum processes."
Grupa Granica, a network of human rights NGOs monitoring the Polish borders, called the facility a 'prison'. Activists linked to Grupa Granica said Wednesday that none of the five Syrians should be in the center, since it is against Polish law to hold people who have suffered torture in closed facilities. They note that the men have fled a violent civil war and experienced pushbacks when they attempted to cross the border to Poland.
Posting on social media, the Polish aid group 'With Bread and Salt' (Chlebem i Solą) said they had met two of the Syrian men last year in the woods on the border with Belarus. "We helped them to apply to the European Court of Human Rights, thanks to which they received a document that forbade the Polish authorities to once again deport them to Belarus. It was just when we knew they were safe that we called Straż Graniczna," the group wrote. Unfortunately for the men, they were taken to closed facilties, some to the notorious Wędrzyn center, and have remained in detention ever since.
Now into its 9th day, the hunger strike led a Polish MP, Katarzyna Piekarska, to intervene. Piekarska, from the Democratic Left Alliance, visited the center and spoke to one of the Syrian protesters, who said he was having problems with his nerves and trouble sleeping, she told OKO.press.
According to Piekarska, the courts in Poland agree to request from the Border Guard to detain asylum seekers partly because it is "simply easier that way."
A spokesperson for the border guard told OKO.press that the Syrians were in detention "on the basis of a court order in connection with their illegal stay in our country."