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Human Rights Center Calls for Monitoring of Asylum Applications on Borders

Source: Photo: ERR

Even though it might be viewed as a springboard to other more affluent Schengen countries, Estonia continues to trail even neighboring Latvia in the number of applicants for asylum.

Numbers of registered applications are under 100 a year, but the Tallinn-based Human Rights Center says if the border procedure were more transparent, it might be a different story.

The organization says that, unlike in neighboring countries, no impartial monitoring takes place at Estonian border checkpoints to inspect whether officials actually accept and review applications for asylum.

"Unlike other places, the goings-on in the border zone cannot be accessed by neutral NGOs or the media to see whether what is taking place there is in conformity to Estonia's international obligations," the Human Rights Center said in a statement.

The center has been offering legal aid to asylum seekers. "Most applicants handed in their application while in-country, not at the border," said Kristi Toodo, the head of a legal center.

"In Latvia, which also has a common border with Russia, the number of applicants started to increase after the UN High Commissioner on Refugees got permission to monitor the borders."

She said no one was aware of why Latvia should be more attractive to asylum seekers than Estonia. Both countries have a similar, relatively meager social safety net and a long border with Russia.

Before it became a member of EU and then Schengen, Estonia went through a period from 2002-2006 when only two people applied for asylum. A jump took place in 2010, when 17 people were granted protection from being returned to the country from which they entered. Estonia currently receives under 100 asylum applications a year. The greatest number of applications have come from Georgians, while the nationality most often granted asylum are from war-torn areas of Afghanistan.

In light of the absence of appeal for refugees, the Foreign Ministry has emphasized Estonia's role in providing development and humanitarian assistance. The state has provided 170,000 euros in refugee assistance and 45,000 directly to the UNHCR.

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