Last Updated: Monday, 23 October 2017, 15:25 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Estonia

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 20 June 2001
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Estonia , 20 June 2001, available at: [accessed 24 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.

Estonia hosted 27 refugees and asylum seekers at the end of 2000. These included 4 persons granted asylum during the year (the first to be granted asylum in Estonia since Estonia's 1997 ratification of the UN Refugee Convention), 4 persons granted temporary residence on humanitarian grounds, and 19 persons whose asylum claims were pending.

During the year, 3 asylum seekers submitted applications. Estonia decided 11 asylum cases (including some pending from 1999), granting 4, of which 2 (from Afghanistan) were granted in the first instance and 2 (from Algeria) after the administrative court ruled in favor of the applicants. The court does not issue merits-based decisions but rules only on questions of law.

Asylum Procedure

Estonia acceded to the UN Refugee Convention and adopted a national refugee law (the "Refugees Act") in 1997.

Through 1999 amendments to the Refugees Act, responsibility for deciding refugee claims moved from the Estonian Cabinet of Ministers to the Citizenship and Migration Board (CMB). Under the amended procedure, the CMB can conduct expedited processing of asylum applications at border checkpoints and in areas within Estonia. The CMB may use the accelerated procedure for applicants who arrive from a "safe country of origin" or a "safe third country," or whose claims are "manifestly unfounded." The amended law states that Estonia should follow UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) guidelines when applying the safe third country principle.

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 allow them to enter the normal refugee status determination procedure or to begin deportation proceedings.

Other amendments in 1999 established a national register of asylum seekers and refugees and allowed asylum seekers ten days to appeal negative decisions.

The CMB requires all asylum seekers subject to the accelerated procedure to reside in a temporary reception facility. In June, Estonia opened its first refugee reception center in Illuka, on the border with Russia.

Asylum applicants and refugees receive a small monthly stipend, medical care, and interpretation services. The government subsidizes legal counsel for asylum seekers during the appeals stage of the asylum procedure and, increasingly, in the first instance.

Recognized refugees receive temporary residence permits and work authorization for up to two years, which may be extended if the 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.

Temporary Residence

Estonia may grant temporary residence permits on humanitarian grounds to persons who do not meet the refugee definition. During 2000, Estonia granted five-year humanitarian residence permits to four persons (all Afghans). Persons with humanitarian status have the same rights and receive the same benefits as others who receive residence permits.

Because aliens must usually apply for humanitarian residence permits at Estonian missions abroad, persons within Estonia, such as rejected asylum seekers, must obtain permission to apply from the interior minister.

UNHCR has noted several limitations of the temporary residence scheme. For example, because the status is not part of the regular asylum procedure, UNHCR said it does not adequately substitute for the lack of a humanitarian status for asylum seekers who do not meet the refugee definition but are in need of protection.

Restrictive Measures

In addition to long-standing readmission agreements with Latvia and Lithuania, Estonia has signed readmission agreements with France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Poland, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, and – in July 2000 – Austria. Estonia has also signed visa-free travel agreements with Finland, Norway, and Sweden containing provisions regarding the readmission of third country nationals.

In June, Estonian and Turkish officials noted that because Estonia is a member of the European Union's Schengen agreement (see box, p. 198), Estonia would not be able to offer visa-free travel to Turkish citizens until all Schengen countries agree to do so.

During 2000, UN bodies continued to criticize Estonia regarding its policies toward ethnic minorities and, in particular, for its refusal to grant citizenship to hundreds of thousands of Russian-speakers within its borders.

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