sty12x18 Migration
sty12x18 Asylum

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1. Migration

Estonia has become a multi-ethnic country where the nature of migration is influenced by events following the rise and collapse of the former Soviet Union. Immigration has strained Estonian society considerably as almost 1.4 million of mostly Soviet Union citizens have passed through the country in the last 45 years 62, not including Soviet military personnel. The result was a radical change in the composition of the population after World War II.

In fact, occupation by the former USSR in 1940 opened the floodgates for Russians to pour into Estonia. From 1945 to 1989 the proportion of Estonians in the population fell from 95% to 61.5%. The proportion of Russians rose from less than 5% to 30.3%. The problem of statelessness is resolving itself as those eligible for naturalization take up Estonian citizenship and those who opt for Russian status apply for Russian citizenship. The non-Estonian population is generally urban, while the rural areas are mainly inhabited by Estonians 63. On 8 December 1998, the European Parliament adopted amendments to the law on citizenship which include the possibility for stateless children born in Estonia after 26 February 1992 to obtain Estonian nationality with a simplified procedure. This was one of OSCE's main recommendations concerning citizenship 64

Migration patterns have now reversed 65. While at least 10,000 migrants came to Estonia every year for 50 years, since 1990 about 100,000 aliens have returned to their 'homelands' of Russia, the Ukraine, Belarus and EU countries (e.g. Germany, Finland) and other CIS countries (e.g. Azerbaijan) 66.

Illegal migration

The Department of Illegal Immigration of the National Citizenship and Migration Board (which was restructured and enlarged in July 1998) currently deals with illegal immigrants on the basis of the Aliens Act (1993). The possibilities of expelling an illegal immigrant are considered by the above-mentioned Board, after which the police can be asked to put him in a transit camp. The final decision is made by administrative courts which can extend the transitional period. According to Article 171 of the Code on Violation of Administrative Law, negotiations shall be held with the country of origin in the case of expulsion.

In order to fight illegal immigration, the National Border Guard Board has improved cooperation with the border guards of Latvia and Russia and with Interpol, and has also organized seminars and meetings of professional staff. The level of cooperation and information exchange with Western Europe and the EU (SOPEMI) is satisfactory. Cooperation with Finland is excellent 67. Estonia also provides the International Organization for Migration with information.

The EU has given only moderate help to the National Border Guard Board within the framework of the PHARE programme. The reason for this lies in the restrictions in the PHARE programme which focuses on the frontiers bordering the EU states, whereas illegal immigration would mostly occur on the border between Estonia and Russia.

The Commission states that staff levels have to be increased; working conditions, training and investigation techniques should also be ameliorated 68.

Estonian legislation does not currently deal with all the new criminal aspects of illegal trafficking of people, but the new penal code should cover these areas. It will also include liability of employers using the labour of illegal immigrants, organizing border crossing, etc. 69

Readmission agreements

It seems Estonia has concluded readmission agreements with Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland Italy, Slovenia and Switzerland. Article 7 on visa-free travel agreements with Denmark, Poland and the Czech Republic also stipulates the readmission obligation of citizens of third coutries. There are no fixed rules for the expulsion of those who arrive illegally from Russia 70 and no negotiations in this field. The Estonian Government was hoping to sign a border agreement with Russia on 2 December 1996, but the draft border agreement did not accord with the border stipulated by the 1920 Tartu Peace Treaty 71, so no agreement has been reached until now.

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2. Asylum

Before 1997, the authorities did not make legal distinctions between asylum-seekers and economic migrants and considered them all to be illegal migrants.

The Estonian Parliament adopted the Estonian Refugee Act on 18 February 1997 and ratified the 1951 Geneva Convention on 19 February 1997. The national Refugee Act and Geneva Convention entered into force simultaneously on 9 July 1997.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs will be responsible for the status determination procedure and the Minstry of Social Affairs for the reception of asylum seekers and the integration of refugees.

On 13 January 1998 the Government initially allocated 140,000 US$ for the renovation of the reception centre. An additional 322,000 US$ is planned for the same purpose in the 1998 State budget.

Currently there are 21 asylum applications before the Estonian authorities 72. As of 6 November 1998, the first three decisions had been taken. All three were negative 73.

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62. Statement by the Minister of Internal Affairs, Republic of Estonia, to the 6th Conference of European Ministers responsible for migration affairs, Warsaw 1996

63. Statistisches Bundesamt, Monographs on countries: Estonia, 1996

64. Agence Europe, 14 December 1998

65. SIPAVI IEN } A., International Migration in the Baltic States: New Patterns and Policy, Vilnius, 1996, pp. 11-12

66. In December 1997, the EU congratulated the Estonian government on its decision to introduce an amendment in Parliament to give Estonian citizenship to children born of stateless parents.

67. Statement of the representative of the Republic of Estonia at the meeting of the Committee on Civil Liberties and Internal Affairs of the European Parliament with corresponding Committees of the Parliaments of the Countries of Central and Eastern Europe, June 1996

68. European Commission, 'Enlarging the EU, progesss towards accession', November 1998

69. Statement of the representative of the Republic of Estonia at the meeting of the Committee on Civil Liberties and Internal Affairs of the European Parliament with corresponding Committees of the Parliaments of the Countries of Central and Eastern Europe, June 1996

70. Unlike Sweden in its negotiations with Estonia, Finland does not require Estonia to become party to the 1951 Geneva Convention. Negotiations between the two countries on visa-free travel, to be introduced in 1997, are currently going on. Finland insists, inter alia, on police cooperation and on introducing electronic checks on Estonian passports ( Migration News Sheet 02/96).

71. Press Agency, 4 December 1996

72. 15 Iraqis, 3 Algerians, 2 Pakistanis and 1 Armenian - UNHCR Estonia, Kristina Mauer, July 1998

73. UNHCR, Jennifer Sarvary, December 1998

© European Parliament: February 1999