Jailed Chechen envoy could land in Belgium or Britain

  • 2002-11-07

Top Chechen envoy Akhmed Zakayev could be deported from Denmark, where he is being held at Russia's request, to either Belgium or Britain if he applies for asylum, a legal expert said.

Zakayev, spokesman and deputy to rebel Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, is considering applying for asylum in Denmark, according to his lawyers, pending a request from Russia to have him extradited on terrorist charges.

But because Zakayev holds a Belgian visa issued in London allowing him to visit the 15 countries covered by the Schengen border agreement, authorities may decide to send him to one of these two countries to rule on his case.

"It would be possible to send him back to Belgium or Britain, two EU countries he visited before visiting Denmark," Morten Kjaerum, head of the Danish Human Rights Center, told the Danmarks Radio station.

"Danish authorities could plan to send him to the first safe country he visited, in accordance with the Dublin Convention," outlining rules for asylum applications within the European Union, he added.

The convention, which came into force in 1997, states that asylum seekers must apply in the first EU state visited and that, failing to do so, they may be returned to that country.

The agreement aims to prevent multiple applications being made throughout the EU and to share the number of asylum seekers throughout the bloc.

Under the convention, the applicant can be deported, in order of priority: first, to a country where a family member has been granted asylum; second, to a state that has issued a visa or residency permit -- in this case Belgium; and third, the country through which the asylum seeker entered the "common territory," thought to be Britain.

The issue is complicated because Zakayev also holds a British visa, therefore making both Britain and Belgium visa-issuing states under the second rule of the EU treaty.

According to Kjaerum, "the Danish immigration authorities routinely use the Dublin Convention in asylum cases. Even if Zakayev's case is unusual, it falls under this convention."

The convention would allow Danish authorities a convenient exit to a tense diplomatic stand-off with Russia that started when they refused to ban an international Chechen conference last week, at which Zakayev was speaking. The issue led to a canceled Russian state visit and a major EU-Russia summit next week being relocated to Brussels.

Danish police arrested Zakayev Oct. 30, acting on a Russian request, over allegations that he was involved in the Moscow theater hostage siege in which Chechen gunmen held more than 800 people captive.

Danish authorities initially refused Russia's request to have Zakayev extradited, giving Moscow until the end of the month to provide stronger evidence supporting their allegations against him.

A Danish court is due to rule on Nov. 12 whether the Chechen envoy should remain in custody, pending the Russian request for his extradition.