The first stage of the center, to cost 11 million kroons ($687,500), became available last week, according to Social Ministry project specialist, Villu Kardi. Thirty-five asylum-seekers will live in the center while their applications go through the legal process. Some may even stay up to two years, depending on the complexity of the individual cases, but never after a ruling has been made on them, he said.
Until now, Estonia has relied on a makeshift residence for those seeking asylum at a nursing home in Ida-Virumaa.
Phase two of the center will begin with the construction of a 10 million kroon annex in 2002, of which 1.2 million kroons is aid from Finland. The Nordic neighbor signed an accord with Estonia to work together on the project last July. Forty-nine more people will be able to stay at the center once completed.
"Finland has been advising Estonian asylum policy from the beginning," Kardi explained. "For a while, Estonia was seen as a route for migrants from Eastern Europe to Finland, so a solid asylum base in Estonia was thought to be in Finland's best interests."
The new center will include personal rooms and special facilities for the disabled, and will create six jobs in Illuka during the first stage, and several more after the second stage.
Asylum-seekers living at the center receive a 70 kroon stipend per month, while those who live outside of the center receive 500 kroons per month for food.
Those seeking asylum are legally not allowed to work, so in the new living quarters they will have the opportunity to learn Estonian, play sports, cook and rest in the weeks after their escape. Already, asylum-seekers have arrived from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikstan, Algeria, Somalia and Sierra Leone, according to Villu.
Since 1997, when Estonia decided to permit asylum within its borders, 46 foreign nationals have applied. None of them, however, were granted asylum. Most applied only after their asylum requests in Western European countries were turned down, and they turned to Estonia as their last hope, according to Citizenship and Migration Board press officer Urmas Krull.
The Citizenship and Migration Board makes the final decisions on who will be granted asylum. The conditions here for acceptance, Krull said, are the same as those of the European Union nations.