End 'double standard approach' on refugees, UN expert urges Poland

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GENEVA/WARSAW (Reuters) - Polish authorities must stop locking up migrants near the Belarus border and put an end to their "very different" treatment of Ukrainian and non-Ukrainian refugees, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on migrants' rights said on Thursday.

Felipe Gonzalez Morales praised the actions of Polish authorities and citizens who have given protection and assistance to over 2 million Ukrainian refugees and lodged them in their homes since the start of Russia's invasion in February.

But non-Ukrainian nationals fleeing that country have faced difficulties obtaining residence permits and proper shelter and have not enjoyed the same legal protections, he said.

Some people fleeing the war have been from third countries, often in the Middle East, Asia or Africa, who had been studying or working in Ukraine at the time of the invasion.

"I note with concern that this double standard approach has led to feelings of being discriminated among third country nationals," Morales said in a statement following a trip to Poland and Belarus on July 12-25.

The Polish border guard and the government were not immediately available for comment on the matter.

As well as the war in Ukraine, Poland has also faced efforts by tens of thousands of migrants since mid-2021 to breach its border with Belarus to get into the European Union. Most of them are from the Middle East and Afghanistan.

That crisis prompted Poland to set up an emergency zone, build a steel border barrier and introduce a campaign of pushbacks.

Morales said these migrants were "routinely" being locked up in de facto detention centres in Poland near the border, including children, in violation of international humanitarian law. He said he had personally visited one of the centres and had seen dozens of family members with children lodged there.

"I also called on Poland to use migratory detention as a measure of last resort to discontinue the practice of migratory detention of children," he told a virtual press briefing.

"I urge relevant authorities to immediately release unaccompanied children, children with their families, pregnant women and individuals with mental conditions into open facilities," he said.

(Reporting by Emma Farge and Alan Charlish; Editing by Gareth Jones)