Estonia is able to deport 90 percent of migrants with failed asylum claims

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Vao Refugee center.
Vao Refugee center. Source: ERR

While many European Union countries deport 30 percent of migrants who do not successfully claim asylum, Estonia's rate is as high as 90 percent. Many come from countries Estonia has agreements with and are willing to repatriate their citizens.

In recent months, thousands of migrants - mostly from the middle east - have tried to cross the EU's external border with Belarus. Thousands have been successful and asylum claims have been made in Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Germany and Finland.

Many countries argue they are economic migrants and do not have the right to international protection, but their claims must still be verified and processed.

One example is Lithuania which accepted more than 4,000 migrants. In October, it had processed 1,300 asylum requests and only accepted two, public broadcaster LRT reported. People with rejected claims must now be deported.

Last year, Estonia had one of the EU's lowest numbers of asylum requests, calculated as three per 100,000 people. The highest was Cyprus with 841 claims per 100,000 people.

ERR's Estonian portal reported that up to 90 percent of deportation orders are carried out in Estonia.

But there are concerns the situation in Estonia could change if more migrants are directed to the country - similar to the situation in Poland, Lithuania or Latvia - or if more try and reach Scandinavia by traveling through Estonia. A temporary barrier is now being built on Estonia's eastern border with Russia to try and prevent such a scenario.

EU-wide figures show that in 2020 approximately 520,000 applications for asylum were made. Of these, 200,000 received a positive response and the rest were required to leave.

This figure was lower than usual due to the coronavirus pandemic and in 2019 approximately 500,000 people were refused international protection. However, only 160,000 actually left.

Estonia's rate of deportation is much higher than the EU average but this is because it has good relations with the homelands of migrants who try and claim international protection here, authorities say. These countries, such as Moldova, Ukraine and Russia, are usually also willing to accept their citizens.

Egert Belitšev, deputy director general of the Police and Border Guard (PPA) said: "But the other thing is that our numbers are still very small compared to others. It's like a tailor-made suit - we can actually take care of every returnee and we work with everyone to deport them."

Belitšev said the EU's total figure for deportations is low.

"In reality, this also sends a message to third countries - that if you enter illegally, there is a probability of two-thirds that you can stay in the European Union, which is not the signal we should send," he said.

However, if the nationalities of people claiming asylum in Estonia suddenly change, it could be harder to deport people with unsuccessful claims.

Liis Valk, head of the Identity and Status Bureau of the PPA, said Estonia already has more difficulty with several other countries.

She said these reasons include a country's willingness to cooperate with Estonia or a country not having a good overview of its citizens and being unable to confirm the deportee's identity.

A person awaiting deportation may be detained for up to 18 months.

Valk said it is unlikely there will be mass migration to Estonia in the future. One reason for this is that Estonia lacks large foreign communities which people may look to join. "And there are no such communities in Estonia yet," she said.

The European Union is slowly trying to solve its deportation issue by creating new return agreements with third countries. However, negotiations last several years and the results are not always good.

"There are many situations where the European Union pays a large amount of development aid to a country but is turning a blind eye to the fact that that a country is not taking back its citizens," Belitšev said. 

Editor's note: This article was updated to include more context.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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