Ministry: Number of individuals seeking asylum in Estonia rose in 2021

Ministry of the Interior coat of arms.
Ministry of the Interior coat of arms. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The number of people who applied for international protection in Estonia in 2021 rose by nearly two-thirds on the preceding year, to 76, the interior ministry said.

The growth was largely the result of a rise in the number of applicants from Afghanistan, following the departure of US and allied forces from that country and the return of the Taliban, though Estonia's overall figure for asylum applications remains among the lowest in the EU.

46 of these applicants were satisfied, the interior ministry says.

Anneli Viks, Adviser of the citizenship and migration policy department adviser at the Ministry of the Interior said that: "In 2021, 76 people applied for international protection in Estonia, 46 of these were granted protection."

Russia, Turkey and Syria remained the three most significant countries of origin for those seeking international protection, and were joined on the list as noted by Afghanistan.

In 2020, 46 people applied for international protection, and 26 were granted it.

Viks added that: "The number of both applicants for and beneficiaries of protection has remained low and stable over the years. Compared with other EU member states, Estonia has among the lowest numbers of applications for international protection."

The resurgence of the Taliban led to a government decision to resettle or relocate up to 30 of its citizens, Viks added.

As of December 31 2021, a total of 349 beneficiaries of international protection and their family members were resident in Estonia, constituting 0.02 percent of the total resident population, or 0.2 percent of the total number of foreign nationals resident in Estonia.

A rate of 30-40 percent of asylum applications being successful in Estonia is around the same as the EU average, Viks added.

§ 38 (1) of the Act on Granting International Protection to Aliens states that: "A residence permit shall be issued to a refugee for three years,", while subsection 2 states that: "A residence permit shall be issued to a person eligible for subsidiary protection for one year," subsidiary protection referring to those who do not meet the criteria of a refugee.

§ 39 (1) adds that: "The Police and Border Guard Board may extend the residence permit issued to a refugee for three years if the circumstances due to which the residence permit was issued have not ceased to exist and no circumstance exists which constitutes the basis for revocation thereof."

Subsidiary protection can be extended for two years.

§4 of the act states that. "A refugee is an alien who, owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group, is outside the country of nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of that country and with regard to whom no circumstance exists precluding recognition as a refugee."

Subsection 3 of the stame section states that:  " person eligible for subsidiary protection is an alien who does not qualify as a refugee and with regard to whom no circumstance exists which would preclude granting of subsidiary protection and in respect of whom substantial grounds have shown for believing that his or her return or expulsion to his or her country of origin may result in a serious risk in the specified country, including:
1) imposition or execution of death penalty on him or her, or
2) torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of him or her, or
3) individual threat to his or her life or the lives of civilians or violence towards him or her or civilians by reason of international or internal armed conflict".

Over the 15-year period 1997 to 2021, 1,324 people have applied for international protection in Estonia, with 603 of these people having their application satisfied.

This figure of 603 consists both of those who have qualified for refugee status (346 people) and for subsidiary protection status (257 people).

The primary countries of origin through that time have been Ukraine, Russia, Georgia, Syria and Afghanistan. 

2019 saw a rise in the number of applications from Turkish citizens, while the following year saw a surge in applications from Russian citizens, ERR reports.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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