As part of our efforts to monitor access to the COVID-19 vaccines for undocumented migrants in Europe, we’re speaking with national-level advocates about the situation in their countries. This interview was conducted in April 2021 with Katarzyna Słubik of Stowarzyszenie Interwencji Prawnej (Association for Legal Intervention) to discuss the situation in Poland. It is not meant to offer an exhaustive picture of the legal and practical context in Poland. Please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have information you’d like to share, and follow our Twitter page @PICUM_post to get more recent updates.
Are undocumented migrants mentioned in Poland’s vaccination strategy?
The Polish vaccination programme is very vague, and doesn’t mention undocumented migrants. Official guidance does seem to limit access to the vaccinations to people who are regularly residing, which would de facto prevent undocumented migrants from accessing the vaccines.
So undocumented people can’t get vaccinated against COVID-19 in Poland?
It’s complicated. While the vaccination strategy seems to exclude undocumented people, our law on infectious diseases opens up to everyone in Poland health care related to infectious diseases. Under this law, you don’t need to have a national registration number, or be insured, to access health care related to the infectious disease. The law would apply to COVID-19 too, as it’s an infectious disease. But as for vaccinations, the law only mentions compulsory ones (i.e. childhood vaccines), while COVID-19 vaccines are not compulsory.
At the same time, the Ministry of Health has stated that the vaccines would be available for people who aren’t covered by health insurance. This would theoretically include undocumented people.
So it’s all very unclear. The Polish Ombudsman actually sent a letter to the government asking to clarify entitlements for migrants, but they haven’t got any response yet.
Have you heard of any undocumented people trying to get a COVID-19 vaccine?
We haven’t heard of any such cases. On the contrary, the feeling is that undocumented migrants are quite hesitant about the vaccines. On the one hand, there’s a major problem with health-related misinformation on vaccines among several communities, including the Ukrainian communities, Roma communities, asylum-seekers and undocumented migrants. On the other, there’s also an underlying fear of contacting doctors or authorities more generally.
How do you explain this fear among undocumented migrants?
In Poland, public institutions are obliged to cooperate with border police. What this means in practice for health authorities is quite unclear, in fact there’s a lot of confusion among medical staff.
While the law only regulates cases where border police can reach out to health providers for specific information, medical staff sometimes interprets it as an obligation to proactively report undocumented migrants. For instance, we’ve heard of hospitals reporting undocumented patients when they weren’t able to pay for the care they received.
Cover: Daniel – Adobe Stock