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Court Precedent, Doubt From National Authorities Hurts Omar's Case

The European Court of Human Rights made a ruling this week that may adversely affect the fortunes of interpreters who worked for the coalition in Afghanistan, including "Omar," the most outspoken of Estonia's several dozen interpreters. Combined with caution and doubt on the part of Estonian authorities, the fate of his unofficial asylum bid is increasingly uncertain.

On April 9, the court in principle cleared the way yesterday for British authorities to send back to Afghanistan two men, one of whom was an interpreter for US units. The other was a driver for the UN, ETV reported.

Like Omar, both men predicated their asylum bid on threats to their safety, but the court said the situation in Afghanistan had improved markedly and that the men's occupations were not important enough for the Taliban to track them down.

Sources refrained from commenting on the case to ETV, the broadcaster said. The news segment characterized the situation of Omar as a hot potato being tossed back and forth between ministries in Estonia, with the Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry each claiming the issue is in the other's jurisdiction.

ETV did report that the charge d'affaires in Afghanistan, Vahur Soosaar, has been instructed to ask follow-up questions from Omar.

Complicating the matter is the requirement of form: asylum applications are to be received from people in Estonia or at the border, and processed by the Interior Ministry. And, ETV reported, the letter submitted by Omar could not be classed as a formal asylum application, meaning the decision to accept him into the country would be a political one.

"We can't have a situation where the individual remains peacefully in his home state and submits an application that he can't be in his home state," said Priit Heinsoo, a department head at the Interior Ministry.
Over the last 16 years, 36 Afghans have applied for political asylum from Estonia, and it was granted seven times. Nine have been given additional protection due to the armed conflict.

Along with the low statistical odds, ETV said it has been told by officials from various ministries that the answer to Omar is likely to be a "no" due to how he has presented his case.

The reasons are that his request is unclear, as he claims on one occasion that his life is in danger, but at other times, that he wishes to study in  Estonia, said ETV - not technically correct, as Omar has at no time said that he is not in danger.

Meanwhile, the Afghan government says it will be capable of protecting its own citizens, and in theory the withdrawal of foreign troops in 2014 is based on that very assumption.

Finally, there is yesterday's Court of Human Rights decision.
"The court has very clearly said that it should be weighed and reviewed whether the person is unsafe in the country or whether there are certain areas that are in fact safe and the person can be relocated, and thus the person can be protected also in their own country," said Heinsoo.

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