Law amendments affect thousands

  • 2001-07-19
  • Aleksei Gunter
TALLINN - Amendments to the law on deportation and entry refusal approved June 26 violate international human rights and potentially harm up to 80,000 people living in Estonia, according to experts from the Legal Information Center for Human Rights.

The people who would suffer are those without any legal basis for residing in Estonia, namely people who did not get residence permits in the mid-1990s when they were first issued, or those who still have old Soviet passports or no documents at all.

Data from the LICHR says those people number about 80,000, while information from the Citizenship and Migration Board maintains the number is closer to 30,000.

Andrei Aryupin, head of the center's legal aid department, told The Baltic Times that the new amendments do not correspond with present legal practice and regulations in Estonia.

For example, a person could be asked to leave the country if his residence permit expired. He or she has 90 days to obtain legal status (get a residence permit) through the courts, failing which the person has to leave the country and continue applying for the residence permit from abroad.

"Legal practice shows it takes at least a year to examine one's residence permit application," said Aryupin. "If a person does not have any citizenship, he or she cannot be deported. Many people come from the former Soviet Union, a country that does not exist anymore, but they have families, relatives and jobs here."

Another unfair provision, continued Aryupin, is that when a person fails to obtain legal residence in 90 days, that person has to pay a sum of up to 10,000 kroons ($550) - called "compulsory money" in the amendments - to the Citizenship and Migration Board. The sum equals almost two average monthly salaries in Estonia.

"We have a situation where those people will have to pay the fine anyway, because they won't manage to get a residence permit in three months," said Aryupin.

He added the amendments also practically remove court control of the deportation process. "Now (Citizenship and Migration Board) officials, who are often incompetent, can issue deportation orders at will," said Aryupin.

The board can officially extend the term of examining certain residence permit applications to up to 18 months, and simply force people to pay.

However the provision on compulsory money obtains legal force only from next January.

"These amendments are more like those for a Third World republic than a state that is longing to become a part of a united Europe. Neglecting the rule of law principle might be even an argument for slowing down the process of negotiations between Estonia and the EU," concluded Aryupin.

Heikki Kirotar, spokesman for the Citizenship and Migration Board, said it will take from six to seven months to extend a residence permit if its holder used to have an alien passport. "Those people have never been deported and never would be," he said.

Stephan Heidenhain, legal adviser for the OSCE mission to Estonia, said the OSCE has always kept an eye on the law on aliens and the law on deportation and entry refusal, and that the new amendments are a way to legalize instead of prompt deportations.

"This is an improvement. But it depends on every single case if the residence permit can be obtained in 90 days or not," said Heidenhain.

The Citizenship and Migration Board issued 307,996 alien passports from 1996 to 2000, but a person can also have a Russian or any other passport with a temporary residence permit to reside in Estonia legally.

As for people with temporary residence permits, 64 percent of them were non-citizens, and 32 percent were Russian citizens as of December 2000.

According to the Citizenship and Migration Board, Estonia has issued only four asylum permits to foreigners ever, to two Afghans and two Algerians.

Fifty-one foreigners applied for asylum from 1997 to 2001, most of them in 1998 and 1999. Fifteen were from Iraq. The Estonian Parliament passed the law on refugees in 1997, and therefore no records of previous years were kept, according to the Citizenship and Migration Board.