Estonia joined in 1997 the Geneva Convention of 1951 relating to the status of refugees, as amended by the New York Protocol of 1967 (hereinafter - Geneva Convention) that means that Estonia has taken an international obligation to protect these aliens who respond to the requirements set in the document. In Estonia, the Police and Border Guard Board is dealing with the asylum seekers and to this aim co-operation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) . In addition, the Ministry of Social Affairs is dealing with the asylum seekers.
Starting from 2006, asylum field in Estonia is regulated by the Act on Granting International Protection to Aliens that contains both principles proceeding from the above-mentioned convention as well as requirements proceeding from the EU directives.
An asylum seeker is an alien who has submitted an application for asylum in Estonia. The status of an asylum seeker shall be extended until entry into force of the PBGB or court decision.
A person enjoying international protection is an alien who has been recognized as asylum seeker, person enjoying subsidiary protection or person enjoying temporary protection and to whom Estonian residence permit has been granted.
A refugee is an alien who responds to requirements set in the Geneva Convention of 1951 relating to the status of refugees and to whom the PBGB has thereof granted the status of a refugee.
For the purposes of the Convention, the term “refugee” shall apply to any person who - owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who,
not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.
Hence, the PBGB recognizes as refugee the alien who:
- fears for being persecuted,
- this fear is founded by objective circumstances and
- is related to race, nationality, religion, membership of a particular social group or political opinion of the applicant.
Person enjoying subsidiary protection is an alien who does not qualify as a refugee, but in respect of whom substantial grounds have shown for believing that his or her return or expulsion to his or her country of origin may result in a serious risk in the specified country, including:
- imposition or execution of death penalty to him or her, or
- torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of him or her, or
- individual threat to his or her life or civilians’ life or violence towards him or her or civilians by reason of international or internal armed conflict.
Submission of application for asylum
There are two options for submitting the application for asylum:
- Application for asylum can be submitted to a border guard official in any border point at the state border of the Republic of Estonia before entering the country. This option shall be used in case the alien has no valid visa, travel documents nor Estonian residence permit.
- If the alien is already in Estonia, then application for asylum shall be submitted to the International Protection Devision of the Police and Border Guard Board.
Determining the Member State responsible for examining an asylum application
After receipt of the application, proceeding of determining the Member State responsible for examining an asylum application shall be conducted immediately. Contracting countries are the Member States of the European Union, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. One of the principal aims of the given proceeding is to prevent an applicant from submitting applications in multiple Member States at a time or to prevent an applicant from submitting a new application for asylum to a Member State A, while he/she has been refused previously in Member State B. This will decrease administrative load of the Member States, avoid exploitation of the asylum system and enhance development of more uniform European asylum system. By determining the Member State responsible for examining an asylum application, it is proceeded from Council Regulation (EC) No 343/2003 of 18 February 2003.
If Estonia is responsible for examining an asylum application, the PBGB will initiate substantive proceedings. The substantive proceedings prolong as a maximum for 6 month. Each application for asylum shall reviewed individually and impartially. By making decision, situation related to human rights in the applicant’s country of origin, his/her explanations related to persecution and other circumstances related to the definite application, shall be taken into account.
Proceedings for asylum are not public and the PBGB shall the information received within the proceedings, strictly confidential. In case of need, restricted information may be delivered by making queries to authorities related to a definite proceeding only. In order to secure the safety of applicant and his/her relatives residing in homeland, the authorities related to the proceeding are forbidden to contact with the authorities of the applicant’s country of origin.
Temporary protection is a procedure of exceptional character to provide, in the event of a mass influx or imminent mass influx of aliens who are unable to return to their country of origin, immediate and temporary protection to such persons
Person enjoying temporary protection is an alien who has had to leave his or her country or region of origin, or has been evacuated, in particular in response to an appeal by international organisations or has been evacuated from there in connection with situation prevailing in the given country:
- is unable to return in safe and durable conditions and who may fall within the scope of provisions regulating international protection;
- who has fled an area of armed conflict or endemic violence;
- who is at serious risk of, or who has been the victim of, systematic or generalised violations of his or her human rights.
Detention of an asylum seeker
By the Act on Granting International Protection to Aliens and Associated Acts Amendment Act, which entered into force on 1st October 2013, the initial reception centre of asylum seekers shall be joined with the expulsion centre of the Police and Border Guard Board in order to grant in compliance with laws of the European Union the detention of the asylum seekers who jeopardize public order or the security of state.
Detention of an asylum seeker is justified only in such case if the efficient application of the measures less restrictive to personal rights is not possible. Detention of an asylum seeker must be in accordance with the principle of proportionality and the essential circumstances related to the asylum seeker shall be taken account of in every single case.
Starting from 1st October 2013 the Police and Border Guard Board and the Estonian Internal Security Service may detain an asylum seeker if it is unavoidably necessary on the following bases:
- identification of the person or verification of the identity;
- verification or identification of the citizenship of the person;
- verification of the legal bases of the entry into and the stay in the state of a person;
- identification of the circumstances relevant to the proceedings of the asylum application, primarily in the case when there is a risk of escape;
- there is a reason to believe that the person has submitted the application for asylum to postpone the obligation to leave or prevent expulsion;
- protection of the security of state or public order;
- transfer of a person to another Member State of the Dublin Convention which is responsible for examining an asylum application.
In the case of appearance of one or several bases named above an asylum seeker may be detained without the permission of an administrative court for up to 48 hours in a detention centre or in the premises of the Police and Border Guard Board or the Estonian Internal Security Service which have been adjusted for detention. With the permission of an administrative court an asylum seeker may be detained in a detention centre for up to two months. An administrative court may extend the term for detention of an asylum seeker by up to two months.
If the basis for detention ceases to exist, then the asylum seeker shall be released immediately.