WARSAW (Reuters) - The U.N. Refugee Agency on Friday urged Poland to help people fleeing war and persecution after Europe's human rights court ruled Warsaw had broken an international convention by denying asylum procedures to refugees.
The conservative-nationalist government in Poland, a deeply Catholic and largely homogeneous country, has said it has restricted entry to refugees due to security concerns.
Critics of the government say it is shirking its humanitarian responsibilities, exploiting anti-migrant feeling in Europe and pandering to populist sentiment at home.
On Thursday the European Court of Human Rights, hearing lawsuits brought by a total of 13 Russians, said Poland had violated the European Convention on Human Rights by denying them the possibility of applying for international protection.
States have an obligation under international law to protect those who seek asylum by permitting them access to territory and safe reception, the UNHCR refugee agency said in a statement.
"People fleeing war, violence and persecution need protection," said Anne-Marie Deutschlander, UN Refugee Agency head for Europe.
"Refusal to grant them entry at the border, without properly assessing their claims, is in dichotomy with the country's obligations."
In one of the cases considered by the court, a Russian national from Chechnya staying in Belarus alleged he had travelled to the Polish-Belarusian border 30 times, trying to lodge an application for international protection.
He said he told Polish border guards he had frequently been detained in Chechnya, and in one instance tortured, but the guards had always turned him back saying he lacked papers authorising his entry.
Human rights activists say the allegation is similar to those made by others aiming to apply for asylum in Poland.
In 2015 the leader of Poland's nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party Jaroslaw Kaczynski warned that refugees from the Middle East could bring diseases and parasites to Poland. Then the party then took power. https://reut.rs/2OQjneC
Since 2016 the annual number of asylum applications has fallen to 4,000 a year from 8,000-14,000 before, according to one non-governmental organisation.
"It seems that after the European refugee crisis, the Polish government decided that acting against refugees will help it in opinion polls, hence such policy was conducted," Jacek Bialas, lawyer at Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights said.
Requests for comment sent by Reuters to the Polish interior ministry, foreign ministry, and government spokesman went unanswered.
(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski, Editing by William Maclean)