New figures show that Estonia has the least refugees among all EU member states. According to a new international report, Estonia also has the lowest number of asylum applicants and approvals, reports Eesti Päevaleht.
The report criticizes Estonia for its asylum policy and says that while Estonia is pledging to fight for human rights and democracy, it refuses to accept people who are forced to flee their home countries. The report also said that living conditions of asylum applicants in Estonia were not up to standard.
Also UN is now putting pressure on Estonia to join the UN refugee relocation programmes and accept more refugees. “We are not expecting Estonia to accept hundreds of refugees, but Estonia could in the near future offer protection to refugees the same way as Estonians were rescued when they had to leave their home country in the past,” said the UNHCR representative.
Commenting the issue, Foreign Minister Urmas Paet said that Estonia was not yet ready to join the global refugee relocation programme and it would not be reasonable. “We are handling applicants who arrive in Estonia as the first country in Europe and apply for refugee status,” said Paet, adding that it would not be reasonable for Estonia to participate in the refugee relocation within Europe at present.
Paet said that Estonia was prepared to accept refugees from Ukraine if the situation in Crimea and Ukraine destabilizes. Representatives of the European office of the UN High Commissioner of Refugees also criticized the Harku detention centre for housing criminals, people waiting for deportation and asylum seekers who are waiting for official decision to their application under one roof.
According to Commissioner Celia Malmström, it was usual that refugees are seeking to relocate to either wealthy countries that are nearby or countries which already have significant population of the nationality of the refugees. One area where Estonia should change its regulation is allowing asylum applicants to work because at present they have no option but to remain in the centre and wait for the authorities to decide their fate.
While Greece, Portugal and Sweden allow asylum applicants to start working right away, Estonian authorities can issue the work permit within a year which is the maximum period allowed by EU for issuing a work permit for asylum applicant. Since 2010, the number of asylum applicants in Estonia has been growing and totaled 97 people last year.
At the same time the number of people who were granted asylum has been decreasing and amounted to 7 applications last year. Among others, eight Syrians applied for asylum in Estonia last year, but only one was accepted.
In comparison, Germany has 170,000 refugees and even Sweden has 92,000 refugees.