UNHCR: Proposed amendment to Estonian asylum law would allow for arbitrary detention of all asylum seekers and should be revised
01.03.13 UNHCR has published a set of recommendations relating to proposed amendments to Estonian national asylum legislation. The proposal to amend the Act on Granting International Protection to Aliens (AGIPA) contains, in UNHCR’s view, a much too broad range of cases where an asylum seeker may be detained, which could lead to their arbitrary and systematic detention, prohibited under international law.
UNHCR is seriously concerned that the proposed grounds for the detention of asylum seekers are much wider than those permitted under International and European law and could, in effect, allow for unlimited use of detention throughout the asylum procedure. Furthermore, the proposed recast of AGIPA would not contain the requirement to examine the necessity of the use of detention and includes no provisions related to alternatives to detention, despite EU law stipulating that it must only be used as a last resort if other methods prove ineffective. UNHCR also strongly recommends that Estonia include explicit exceptions to detention for particularly vulnerable groups of asylum seekers, in particular UNHCR maintains that asylum-seeking children should not be detained.
UNHCR recalls that Estonia will be required to transpose the recast of the EU Reception Conditions Directive within two years of its publication in the Official Journal of the EU and that the new version of AGIPA will therefore need to be revised again to bring it in-line with minimum standards.
Aside from the issue of detention, UNHCR recommends that the amended AGIPA be brought into line with EU requirements regarding access to the labour market for asylum seekers who have not yet received a decision on their case after nine months and that the possibility to challenge decisions regarding reception conditions be made available to them.
The purpose of the proposed amendments is to facilitate the merging of asylum reception centres and expulsion centres in order to ensure detention of asylum seekers at different stages of the procedure. This policy is considered a priority for the Estonian government under the Action Plan 2011-15.
Estonia received just 75 applications for asylum between July 2011 and July 2012 – the lowest in any of the EU Member States.