Last Updated: Friday, 20 October 2017, 11:43 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - Estonia

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 January 1999
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - Estonia , 1 January 1999, available at: [accessed 20 October 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

No positive asylum decision was made in Estonia in 1998. A total of 23 asylum seekers filed applications during the year, of which six – two Algerians, one Armenian, and three Nigerians – were rejected. A total of 18 asylum cases were pending at year's end.

Estonia's parliament ratified Estonia's accession to the UN Refugee Convention and Protocol and adopted a national refugee law in February 1997. The "Refugees Act" came into effect on July 9, 1997; however, aspects of Estonia's implementation of the Act were of concern to UNHCR. Of these, UNHCR cited: inadequate access to legal assistance for asylum seekers; a lack of qualified interpreters to assist asylum seekers; the "low quality" of some asylum decisions, particularly first-instance decisions; and the lack of an alternative humanitarian status for rejected asylum seekers in need of protection.

The Act provides for expedited processing of asylum applications at border checkpoints by the Citizenship and Migration Board (CMB), the government agency responsible for its implemention. The CMB interviews applicants to ascertain their credibility, the authenticity of their documents, and their compliance with the grounds for asylum in Estonia, before deciding whether to transfer them to a reception center to certify refugee status. From there, the Estonian Cabinet itself, not the CMB, decides asylum cases. Government authorities said this was inefficient and time consuming, however, and were considering transfering responsibility for asylum decisions to the CMB at year's end.

During 1998, the CMB held asylum seekers at a temporary reception facility in the town of Aa, near the city of Kohtla Jarve in northeast Estonia. There, they reportely received room, board, and emergency medical care, but had limited access to other services. In May, the government started building a 60-bed refugee processing center in Illuka, on the border with Russia, that was to open in 1999.

Asylum applicants and refugees receive food, medical care, and interpreting services at the reception center. Persons accorded refugee status receive temporary residence permits and work authorization for up to two years, and may extend them if conditions that caused them to flee persist. Refugees also have the right to state allowances, employment services, and unemployment benefits equal to those of citizens.

Restrictive Measures

Estonia had signed readmission agreements with France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Slovenia, and Switzerland – in addition to long-standing readmission agreements with Latvia and Lithuania – at year's end. The agreements with France, Germany, and Italy were to enter into force in March 1999. UNHCR reported that Estonia did not return or readmit any third country national under these agreements during 1998.

Estonia had also signed visa-free travel agreements containing provisions regarding the readmission of third country nationals with Finland, Norway, and Sweden. Finland reportedly agreed not to apply the provisions to asylum seekers until Estonia's asylum system was fully functional. At year's end, Norway and Sweden had also not returned asylum seekers to Estonia under these agreements.

About 20 "illegal aliens," asylum seekers, or other third country nationals were in detention pending deportation or a court order granting them residence at year's end. Estonia reportedly did not deport any rejected asylum seekers during the year, however.

(On February 8, 1999, Estonia's Cabinet adopted amendments to the Refugees Act that enter into force on September 1, 1999. Among other things, the amendments: 1) allow the CMB, rather than the Cabinet itself, to decide asylum claims; 2) expand the expedited processing of asylum applications beyond border checkpoints to areas within Estonia; 3) allow asylum seekers ten days to appeal negative decisions (appeals have no suspensive effect); and 4) establish a national register for asylum seekers and refugees. A February 17, 1999 amendment to Estonia's Aliens Act allows persons denied asylum who cannot return to their country of origin to apply for temporary residence permits. The amendment enters into force on October 1, 1999.)

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