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Russia: UNHCR Welcomes Poland's Acceptance Of Chechen Refugees

Geneva, 19 November 2002 -- The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) today welcomed Poland's decision to accept Chechen refugees after barring their entry for several weeks. But it lamented Lithuania's continuing refusal to allow them in. Kris Janowski, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, told reporters that 150 people from Chechnya were allowed to enter Poland this past weekend and seek asylum there.

It was the first time Poland accepted Chechens since the 23 October mass hostagetaking by Chechen rebels in a Moscow theater.

Janowski said the UNHCR hopes that the admission of 150 Chechens to Poland last weekend represents a permanent return of Poland's policy of open doors to Chechen asylum seekers.

However, he said it was still worried about the situation in neighboring Lithuania, which earlier this month barred 26 Chechens, mostly women and children. He said UNHCR is working with the Lithuanian government to get them to follow Poland's example.