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Interior minister opposes Estonian-Abkhazian citizenship exception

Estonian passports.
Estonian passports. Source: Piret Kooli

Interior minister Mart Helme (EKRE) opposes granting dual citizenship to Estonian-Abkhazians as an exception, bringing back into focus a case which arose late in 2018 regarding the status of those of Estonian descent living in Abkhazia, which is in Georgian territory, but is a de facto and partially-recognized republic.

The situation is further complicated by changes in the situation in Abkhazia, not least the ongoing Abkhaz-Georgian conflict which started 30 years ago, and Estonia, which became independent in 1991.

This also intermeshes with Estonia's overall approach to citizenship, often cited as opposing dual citizenship. What happens next is the responsibility of the entire government and not just the interior ministry, headed up by Mart Helme of the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) since the coalition entered office at the end of April.

"I am not in favor of granting this exception. It creates a precedent where we can find ethnic Estonians from Siberia to Kamchatka and anywhere else," Helme told daily Postimees Thursday, ERR's online Estonian news reports, adding that he would support a case-by-case approach, with each person's eligibility for citizenship based on individual merits.

Ethnic Estonians migrated into what was then the Russian Empire as early as the 19th century, and many of both their descendants, and those of Estonians deported to Siberia during the Soviet occupation, could theoretically claim citizenship, Helme claimed, a situation he wanted to avoid.

The Centre/EKRE/Isamaa coalition government has promised to resolve the legal confusion surrounding Estonian-Abkhazian case by August at the latest. At the same time, the Ministry of the Interior is refusing to publicly share the results of a month-long analysis, stating that this can only be done following a political decision.

"As soon as the decisions arising from the analysis have been made, we will also share this information with the media," Ruth Annus, Head of Citizenship and Migration Policy Department at the interior ministry, told Postimees. She added that the choice of solutions is a political decision to be taken jointly by the coalition partners, thus the ministry will not have this decision earlier than it has been made.

The Supreme Court decision was based around the claim that Rutto had been issued a passport "by mistake". However, this decision was later reversed by the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) and Rutto received an apology from then-interior minister Katri Raik (SDE).

The change of government since then has given the interior ministry to Mart Helme (EKRE).

Holding a Russian passport is reportedly necessary for movement outside of Abkhazia, since the republic has broken away from Georgia, in whose territory it lies, meaning the only direction Abkhazians can travel is northwards, into the Russian Federation.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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