The Office of the Chancellor of Justice has condemned the Police and Border Guard Board's (PPA) decision not to grant temporary protection at the Estonian border to the spouse of a Ukrainian refugee. According to the police, they had reason to doubt the validity of the man's marriage certificate, which is why they took him to a detention facility.
"The PPA has detained the spouse of a Ukrainian citizen who entered Estonia as a person eligible for temporary protection," Olari Koppel, director of the Office of the Chancellor of Justice, wrote in a injunction addressed to PPA Director General Elmar Vaher. "The PPA did not file his application for a residence permit on the basis of temporary protection at the border on March 9. The PPA likewise did not file a decision indicating that he is not entitled to temporary protection."
According to the letter sent from the Office of the Chancellor of Justice, PPA officials concluded that the man is not a recipient of temporary protection without having handled the matter within the framework of the appropriate administrative procedure, and detained him as someone who had entered the country illegally despite him repeatedly explaining to officials that he had left Ukraine due to the war breaking out there.
"The man later submitted an application for international protection, but due to the explanations of PPA officials at the border and due to his detainment, he retracted his application while held at the detention facility," Koppel wrote. "The key issue is that the PPA officials don't consider the man to be eligible for temporary protection, as he did not arrive in Estonia together with his Ukrainian citizen spouse."
Koppel found that the PPA must resolve without delay the man's request to be recognized as a recipient of temporary protection. He noted that it must also be borne in mind that the right of a Ukrainian citizen's spouse to the application of temporary protection does not depend on whether or not the Ukrainian citizen's family member has arrived in the country together with the Ukrainian citizen.
"If no grounds exist for the refusal to issue a residence permit on the basis of international protection, then he must be issued a residence permit without further delay," the director wrote. "It must also be assessed whether his detention is lawful."
The incident in question is more complicated than it may at first seem, Liis Valk, superintendent of the PPA's Identity and Status Bureau told ERR.
According to Valk, the man in question, a citizen of a third country, arrived in Estonia by car from Latvia on March 9 together with another man of the same citizenship who already possessed an Estonian residence permit.
"The man explained that he had come from Ukraine and is married to a Ukrainian citizen who had decided to travel from Ukraine to Slovakia," the PPA official explained. "Several factors raised the police officers' suspicions. For example, the man did not know his alleged spouse's name, and only managed to state it after looking for the marriage certificate and reading it off of there. Asked why he was not together with his spouse, he stated that he wants to come work in Estonia."
Chancellor of Justice: EU rules cannot be interpreted restrictively
The police decided that there were grounds to doubt the man's motives and explained to him that he would be drawn up a voluntary injunction for leaving Estonia and be granted time to make arrangements for departing to his country of origin.
The police alleged that the man thereafter refused to cooperate with the police, and made it clear through his behavior that he had no intention of fulfilling the voluntary injunction. As a result, the police decided instead to detain the man.
Upon his detention, the man filed an application for international protection. While applicants for international protection can be taken to the refugee center in Vao, the police instead sought permission from the courts to detain him. The court found that his detention was justified.
"As of Thursday, the man is an applicant for international protection, and will remain at a detention center in Tallinn as the application is processed," Valk explained. "We will thoroughly clarify the details of this entire case, after which we can decide whether the man is eligible for international protection or not."
The processing of applications for international protection can take up to six months.
According to the Office of the Chancellor of Justice's information, the man in question has lodged an appeal with Tallinn Administrative Court, and the latter in turn has brought judicial action against the PPA.
"In the situation that has arisen, we must await the court's judgment regarding the legality and justification of the detention of this individual," Koppel said.
The administration of the Chancellor of Justice last week proposed to the PPA that the latter comply with applicable EU rules when accepting, issuing temporary protection and issuing Estonian residence permits to war refugees from Ukraine, and to avoid, where possible, the restrictive and unlawful interpretation thereof.
Editor: Aili Vahtla