Back in June 2016, Polish agents tried to persuade an Iraqi Biological Sciences Ph.D. student, Ameer Alkkawlany, who was studying at Jagellionian University on a scholarship with Poland’s Ministry of Education. On 3 October, 2016, he was suddenly was arrested and thrown into a detention facility. The reasons for his arrest were never disseminated to him or anyone else, though it is assumed his arrest and detention occurred due to his refusal to spy on Muslim communities in Poland, as he is an atheist and thus has little to no ties with Muslims. At the trial, which went through within a matter of minutes, he was informed that he would be deported to Iraq within ninety days of his arrest for “posing a danger to the national security of the Republic of Poland,” but he nonetheless continues to await deportation. He has written a letter about his experiences, the text of which is provided below.
My name is Ameer Alkhawlany. I’m from Iraq but have been living and studying in Poland since 2014. For the 2016-2017 academic year, I’m enrolled as a first-year doctoral student at Jagiellonian University in Kraków, enrolled in the Institute of Environmental Sciences. I live in Krakow, residing in the Miasteczko Studenckie campus.
On Monday, the 3rd of October, it was a cloudy day. That morning, before I got to the university, I wanted to exchange some money from dollars to zloty. So I went to the city center of Krakow after I exchanged money at a kantor (exchange office), and while walking on Szczepańska Street (I’m not sure of the name) to go to my institute on the way to Bagatela tram stop (where I catch tram number 18 which goes to my institute), a group of 5 guys stopped me. They were in civil dresses. First I concentrated on the one who was in front of me, because he opened his jacket and grabbed his revolver, but did not take it out from his belt; this move really scared me! Another guy, on right side, showed me his ID, and the third one asked me to show him my resident card, followed by all of them asking me to hand over my passport. After I gave them my resident card and passport, they ordered me to turn off my phone and give it to them, then demanded I move towards the entrance of the building (which was on my left side).
I was so shocked and had no idea about what to speak with those guys. They talked so fast in Polish that I couldn’t understand everything so I asked, “Co jest Problem? Nie rozumiem! Czy mowicie po angielsku?” Then one of them who spoke English answered: “If you comply by our orders nothing bad will happen to you.” It was such a strange statement for me!
Then they said, “Take off your jacket.” By that time a lady came from the street, wanting to enter through the entrance where I was standing, but they didn’t allow her to do this. They told her to wait a few minutes, so she stood waiting and watching on the street.
After I took off my jacket, they told me to put my hands up and took all of my stuff. After they finished their very detailed inspection they bound my hands.
After I took off my jacket, they told me to put my hands up and took all of my stuff (bag, wallet, phone, keys). They inspected me, my clothes, even the shoes, and my stuff intensely. I thought to myself that , “These guys have got a wrong idea about me just because I have dark skin!” After they finished their very detailed inspection of me and my stuff they bound my hands. This was very big shock for me, again.
I asked them, “Please tell me what is the problem? What is going on?”
They replied, “We will take you to an interview!”
“What kind of interview? What do you mean? Why? Where?”
“To an interview at the border guard center, and there you will know everything!”
And then they took me, with my hands bound, to the border guard center in a civilian vehicle.
This was such a difficult time. I didn’t understand what was going on, and some people on the street – like the lady who was waiting to enter the building – were watching all of this, and I worried that they were thinking I was a criminal or worse.
In the car were three guys, two in the front and one beside me. The car went from the city center through Bagatela and to Plac Inwalidów, through the Uniwersetyt Pedagogiczny stop, and then went outside of Krakow. The car went through some road with both sides surrounded by forest. So I asked, “This is a forest?”
“So where are you taking me?”
“We are going to the Border Guard center at the Krakow airport.”
After we reached the airport, they took me to some medical clinic or something, where a medical staff of three persons were waiting for me! They checked my body, measured my blood pressure. I said to the lady who was checking my body, “Pani, I’m not sick!” She said, “Tak bardzo dobrze! (Yes, it’s all right.)” Then they took me to another room, where some staff was waiting to take my fingerprints.
After they finished their medical examination and taking my fingerprints, they put me in some room as though I was under arrest, and told me that if I needed something (like to go to the toilet) to knock on the door. They left me in that room for about an hour. Then they came with a lady (translator).
She greeted me and asked in Arabic, “Do you speak Arabic good?”
“Yes, I do.”
“I’m translator, but I’m Polish, so please try to speak with me formally because I understand formal better than dialects.”
“OK, I will.”
The documents they had me sign used a lot of language I mostly could not understand.
They then took me to another room for an interview, and said, “We will ask you some question to answer and some documents to sign after she translates them to you.”
I replied, “First, I want to know why I’m here? I’m so shocked, tell me please what is going on. I cannot tolerate more.”
“After this interview we will take you to the court and there you can ask what is your problem! And here we will explain you some information.”
“What is court? What do you mean? Why?”
“We will explain to you what are these documents, and only in court can you ask about the reasons.”
He started the interview by asking, “What is your name?”
“Where do you live?”
“In Miasteczko Studenckie AGH –Krakow.”
“What are you doing in Poland?”
“Studying.” (At that time I felt powerless to answer, but I had no other choice).
“What do you study?”
“What level? At which university?”
I replied, “I am a doctoral student at Jagiellonian University, studying with the Institute of Environmental Sciences there.”
He then asked, “When did you come to Poland?”
“In September of 2014.”
“Explain what you have been doing in Poland since your arrival?”
“When I came, I immediately started my graduate studies at the master’s level in ecology and evolution, at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, in the Institute of Environmental Sciences. In June 2016 I finished my master’s program, and in July 2016 I was admitted to the doctoral studies program in the same institute.”
He then asked, “What is the name of your supervisor in your master’s and doctoral programs?”
“My master’s professor is January Wiener, and I’m still under his supervision for publishing my theses. My doctoral professor is Dr. hab. Anna Rozen.”
“What is the title of your doctoral project?”
I had some problems with translating my doctoral project in Arabic, so I said it in English, “The impact of changes in nutrients supply on stoichiometry and ecosystems.”
He then requested that I “try to say it in Arabic.”
While I was trying to reply in Arabic, he said “OK, it is complicated. Have you ever you worked in Poland?”
“No, I have only studied here.”
“What is the financial source of your master’s study?”
“My own saved money.”
“How much have you paid for your master’s study tuition fee?”
“For two years I paid 4200 euros.”
“What about your doctoral studies? What is the financial source for that?”
“I have a scholarship that supports me and my studies financially for 4 years.”
“Who awarded and funds this scholarship? And how much money does it provide?”
“This scholarship is paid by the Ministry of Higher Education in Poland, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a kind of cooperation between the two ministries. It covers tuition, which is 8500 zl per year, and gives a monthly stipend of 1350 zlott for the cost of living for the duration of 4 years.”
Then he asked, “How you got this scholarship?” I replied that “I applied to the Ministry of Education in Warsaw, and after a competition amongst the international students, I got it. It is for foreign students.”
“Do you have relatives in Poland, or in European Union?”
“Yes, I have one brother in Poland and another brother in Germany.”
“What are they doing?”
“Both are students.”
“Your brother who is in Poland, where does he live?”
“With me in the same room.”
“What do you have in Poland? Your money, stuff, things?”
“I have less than 3000 euros in the bank, and a laptop computer. I have a phone and some other simple things.”
I imagined that I could trust the court because Poland is a democratic and civilized country, in the European Union, in Schengen zone, where things are trustworthy, fair.
Here I have forgotten some questions that followed this, but after answering all of these questions they started to read some documents and had me sign them. The documents used a lot of language I mostly could not understand, and my head started to feel like it was spinning or burning. I understood there were some things written about laws, about the rights of the people who are placed in a guarded center for foreigners.
I asked them, “What does it mean, ‘guarded center’?”
One of the men replied that it was “a place for keeping the people who have no documents, or no legal right to stay in Poland.”
Then there was again too much speaking too fast, and after a while something grabbed my attention, as a request from the head of security authorities said to me, “Ameer Alkhawlany poses a danger for the security of Poland! So he has to be deported to his country Iraq, before which he must be kept in a guarded center for foreigners for 90 days to ensure the execution of this decision.”
When I heard that I really didn’t believe myself! I nearly passed out and fell down.
I asked them, “What danger do I represent? Why?”
The translator told me, “It is a request, the court will decide.”
I then asked the translator, “is there a judge, and will there be a trial?”
“Yes of course,” she replied, adding, “you will have time to speak and to ask about the situation, and to know about your matter.”
Then they bound my hands together and put me in a special car to take me to the court. While I was in that car on the way to the court I could not stop thinking to myself, “Why this? What for?”
I thought about the guys who had stopped me initially, that they must be from “internal security.” And I remembered the last time I had been in Warsaw, and got a phone call from some guys who told me: “We are trying to know about Iraqi people. We know that you are a smart student and you don’t have problems in Poland. Enjoy your study and life and if you have any problems don’t hesitate to call us, we will help you.” But I did not have my phone to call them at this time now. So I concluded that those people from the border guards mixed up my name because there are so many people in Iraq who have a similar surname.
Then I started to think about the court. I was trying to find some hope and trying to support myself to get some internal power to enable myself to speak in the court, because I felt I was almost dead. Then I imagined the court: I trust the court in Poland because Poland is a democratic and civilized country, yes I’m still in Poland which is in the European Union, in Schengen zone, where things are trustworthy, fair. Equitable courts and laws. I will be under the ceiling of such a court where individual rights must be respected and upheld! Thinking in this way helped me feel a bit safer, and gave me some hope; there will be a judge in that special coat, and this judge will not oppress me and will tell me what the problem is so I can defend myself. And I kept imagining and hoping that the judge will listen to me, will investigate this, and realize it’s assuredly wrong. The judge will not let those people take me to that strange place, that “guarded center for foreigners,” and the judge will let me go back to my dormitory in Miasteczko Studenckie, AGH, so I can get some sleep, where my brother also sleeps. I thought, “My brother is probably worried about me now, because it is so late and I usually go back to the dorm earlier than this. We keep in good touch, for sure he is trying to call me now but those people took my phone, so my brother is so worried now.” It was a terribly difficult time.
Then we reached the court and they took me out of the car. When I entered the court building they unbound my hands. And we then waited for the trial. I was vacillating between hope and fear.
The translator then arrived and started to speak with me. I asked her about what I could do, and how to defend myself throughout the trial. She told me to just ask the court at the trial.
The trial started. The judge introduced the judge’s assistant, the representative of the Border Guards, the translator, and myself. I was shivering very anxious to ask and know about what is my problem?
‘He must be deported to Iraq within 90 days, and must be kept in the guarded center for foreigners, because he will try to escape from Poland.’
The judge started to read the request of the head of security authorities, which was handled by the representative of the Border Guards. The request stated: “Ameer Alkhawlany, who has Iraqi citizenship, poses a danger to the security of the Republic of Poland. So he must be deported to Iraq within 90 days, and during this time he must be kept in the guarded center for foreigners to ensure the success of his deportation, because he will try to escape from Poland.” The judge also mentioned a number of the laws which are used and so on.
Then I was given time to speak. I asked them, “First, I want to know why I’m here. Why do I pose a danger? What is the reason? What is going on?”
The judge replied, “It is secret information you cannot know it. But why do you think this is happening?”
I said to the judge, “I don’t know. I cannot guess, but I have been asking the whole morning and nobody answers me. They only say the court will know!”
“You cannot know, but do you have something to say?”
I asked why I’m here. Why do I pose a danger? What is the reason? The judge replied that it was secret information I couldn’t know.
“Yes. I have been living and studying in Poland since 2014. I have never broken the law ever. I never crossed the light, never been in the bus without ticket! I did my master’s degree and I started my doctoral studies without any problem. I don’t want to leave Poland! I’m living legally in Poland according to the document from my university and I have scholarship from the Ministry of Higher Education in Warsaw, this scholarship supports my living expenses and the financially cost of my studies, and the tuition fee to my university for 4 years so I have a golden opportunity for getting my doctoral degree at Jaqiellonian University and I already started! So why do I need to leave Poland?”
The judge then asked the representative of Border Guards: “Did you listen to him well?”
The representative of Border Guards replied, “Yes.”
The judge then asked, “Do you have any questions for him?”
“Do you still insist on your request to arrest him?”
The trial ended after only a few minutes.
And the trial ended after only a few minutes. We went out to wait for the decision of the judge. While we were waiting for the decision, me and the translator had a conversation about the situation in Iraq and about the “guarded center for foreigners.” She said this center “is not a bad place, there you can watch TV, and you are free within that center. You can call your family as well.”
After about 15 minutes we were called back in to hear the decision, and the decision was: The court accepted the request of the Border Guards, and due to the danger of Ameer Alkhawlang the guarded center for foreigners is not enough, because there is a big probability Ameer will not respect and comply to the rules and laws pf the guarded center for foreigners, so the most suitable thing for him is the arrest center for foreigners. Ameer Alkhawlang will be kept in the arrest center for foreigners while waiting for deportation to Iraq within 90 days.
I asked the translator what was an arrest center? She said it was a center for foreigners where I would be in a closed room all the time.
I asked the translator, “What is the arrest center? What the different between it and the guarded center?”
She told me, “In the arrest center for foreigners you will be in a closed room all the time.”
The judge then said to me, “You have the right to appeal against this decision within 7 days and you will receive the translated copy in 3 or 4 days. Do you want to inform someone?”
I told him, “Yes, I want to inform my brother.”
“Where is he living?”
“In Krakow, Poland.”
“Give his phone number to the translator and she will inform him about your arrest.”
“I don’t have his number, I need to take it from my phone.”
Then they gave me my phone and I took the number and gave it to the translator and she promised to call him. And they bound my hands again to take to me the arrest center for foreigners in Przemyśl. It was a terrifying time for me. I even forgot about myself, I was only thinking about my brother: Is he fine? Or has some bad thing happened to him? Even if he is fine, how much does he worry now about me! And how shocked will he be when he finds out?
Disclaimer: This version is a grammatically edited version of Ameer’s letter. The original is included below as a slideshow.