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Estonian Government Declines Afghan Interpreter's Request for Asylum

The Estonian government has decided to turn down an asylum request from a former interpreter for the Estonian military, an Afghan known in the media as "Omar," ETV reported.

After wide media coverage of the issue, the decision came a day after Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in Estonia that individuals cooperating with coalition forces would not be at any greater danger than other civilians once troops withdraw in 2014.

Omar, who has worked as an interpreter for three of Estonia's infantry units, received an e-mail on Wednesday from an Estonian representative in Afghanistan, informing him of the decision. He said no explanation was given. "No. There was no reason [...] in the e-mail. They said [...] there is no chance to get to Estonia," Omar told ETV.

A press representative for the Police and Border Guard Board said the agency would not comment as only the applicant can disclose the reasons behind the decision.

Foreign Minister Urmas Paet said through the Government Office that it is standard international practice not to comment on individual cases.

Estonian Defense Minister Urmas Reinsalu did give a brief comment. "The context is that there is a large number of individuals who have cooperated with the military - over 60 people with civilian duties of this sort have cooperated with our unit alone. And certainly, if some kind of special circumstances have emerged in which an individual's security was at serious risk in connection with cooperation with our military in Afghanistan, then [there] would not have been a reason for turning him down," Reinsalu said.

Omar said he believed that one reason for the rejection could have been President Karzai's statement, when he was on an official visit to Estonia on Tuesday, in which he said that individuals cooperating with coalition forces would be safe from the Taliban after the troop withdrawal in 2014.

Omar said he was concerned that the Afghan government has entered into peace negotiations with the Taliban.

"I would like to leave Afghanistan before the system changes again," Omar said.

The case has fueled much debate, with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves also weighing in last month.

"Estonia has a moral obligation to help those who have helped our units in Afghanistan," Ilves said through his spokesman.

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