Estonia legalizes migrant pushbacks at borders in emergencies

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A "stop" sign at Estonia's border with Russia in south eastern Estonia. Source: Ministry of Defense

Estonia has legalized the pushback of migrants during "emergencies caused by mass immigration" after the Riigikogu passed an amendment last month and the president signed it into law on Monday (August 1).

The Police and Border Gaurd Board (PPA) will now be able to refuse applications for international protection from migrants who cross an external border illegally — not at an official border crossing point — and send them back.

This amendment will only allow for the "immediate removal of an alien" during a threat to public order or national security. 

The act allows the PPA to admit a person to Estonia for "humane considerations".

A migrant who submits an application at a designated crossing point will be deemed an applicant for international protection, the act says.

MPs passed the amendment to the Act on Amendments to the State Borders Act and Amendments to Other Associated Acts, proposed by Isamaa, with 68 votes in favor.

"Its aim is to ensure the protection of public order and national security in a mass immigration emergency, at the same time taking into account the provisions of EU and international law as well as case law," a statement from the Riigikogu said.

Reservists constructing Estonia's temporary border barrier in south Estonia in November 2021. Source: Ministry of Defense

President Alar Karis signed the amendments into law on Monday.

Last month, the Estonian Refugee Council said the move would be a "significant violation of both international law and European Union law" and hoped the president would send the bill back to the Riigikogu for further discussion.

Estonia's neighbors Poland, Lithuania and Latvia moved to legalize pushbacks last year after migrants, mainly middle eastern, started to cross the countries' borders with Belarus.

Politicians called the scenario a "hybrid attack" orchestrated by the Belarusian leader.

Estonia, while not directly affected, became a transit country for migrants crossing the Latvian border and traveling onwards to the Nordic countries. There are concerns Russia could take similar actions in the future.

Lithuania has faced heavy criticism for its pushback law and the European Court of Justice recently ruled it contradicts EU law, public broadcaster LRT reported.

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Editor: Helen Wright

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