FECL 27 (September 1994):

TRANSITING REFUGEES JAILED IN ESTONIA

Since the strict implementation of restrictive visa requirements and the "safe third country" concept by a growing number of Western European states, ever more would-be asylum seekers heading for the West find themselves trapped in Central and Eastern European countries. In Estonia, they are jailed.

On 21 August, a report on the Swedish public TV's channel 1 showed insufficiently documen-ted Kurdish refugees from Iraq who had been stopped by the Estonian police on their way to Scandinavia.

Estonian legislation makes no difference between illegal immigrants and those stranded transiting migrants.

Thus, women and children are brought to a large detention camp for illegal immigrants in the town of Harku. The camp is fenced in with barbed wire. Men are separated from their families and detained in a regular prison near Tallin.

The detainees find themselves in a catch 22 situation. Forcible return of the refugees to their countries of origin is difficult to implement for the Estonian authorities who seem to be overstrained by the problem, and Sweden denies entry visas.

The growing number of detained refugees is believed to be a direct consequence of tougher action of the Estonian police and Customs against smuggling of undocumented migrants following complaints from Germany and Sweden.

Sweden is concerned about crime and illegal immigration from the Baltic states. In an effort to improve border controls the Swedish government has, among other things, donated coast-guard boats to the Baltic states.

Yet, in recent months the smuggling of refugees over the Baltic Sea has increased. In one case, a group of refugees almost suffocated in a locked container loaded on a ferry, and in recent months, several groups of up to 40 refugees were dropped by smuggler vessels on islands near Sweden's eastern coast.

 

Source: "Aktuell", Swedish Public TV Channel 1, 21.8.94; other Swedish press reports.