A scenario the authorities have feared for some time materialized last week when the police had to arrest the father of a family of refugees relocated to Estonia.
The attention of the police was captured by a family of refugees with several small children last week, when the father of the family allegedly threatened to kill his wife on November 12.
The authorities initially only heard rumors. It was unclear whether anyone had been hurt and which family hearsay concerned. Information reached the social ministry, through support workers, and finally the police last Wednesday.
Even though the woman was unharmed, the prosecution deemed it necessary to seek the father's arrest to protect the children and their mother. There was reason to believe the man could continue committing crimes. The court authorized detention over the weekend. The out-of-control suspect had to be hospitalized himself before his arrest.
The investigation has determined that it is possible the man has acted violently against his wife in the past, with jealousy believed to be the main reason for the fights.
Kalvi Almosen, head of the crime prevention and offense proceedings unit of the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA), said that the fact problems in the family only surfaced now even though refugee families should be under close state supervision is deserving of attention. “It is an example that allows us to work with our partners to try and establish where the flow of information was disrupted,” she said.
“It would be ideal if we could prevent these kinds of incidents; however, because that is not always possible, it is good if the victim quickly notifies the police and the prosecution that can then react promptly,” senior prosecutor Ülle Saar added.
Almosen emphasized, however, that cases of domestic violence are not easy to establish. “It is extremely important to agree how and whom to notify. Neither the support person nor anyone else must be allowed to get the idea that it is admissible for people from different cultures to act differently. This particular case serves as a valuable lesson,” she said.
The investigation must now determine whether the family has suffered from mental or also physical terror, which is why the prosecution and the police are reluctant to provide further details. The fact remains that threats were deemed serious enough to warrant the man's arrest. A restraining order is one potential solution.
If the widespread stereotype suggests that violence against women is a common and accepted occurrence in Syria, the woman is prepared to testify against her husband in this case. The police were surprised by this preparedness for cooperation as it constitutes unusual behavior among victims of domestic violence in general.
“The violent person is often good at manipulating others and thinks their actions through. Victims find themselves in a dependent relationship, they no longer acknowledge that how they are treated is abnormal. They come to believe they are to blame for their mistreatment,” Almosen explained.
Not to mention a situation where the victim is a refugee from a foreign culture and language environment. “Trust in the receiving country is often in short supply. Children fear people in uniforms; seeing an armed official in one's house comes as a shock,” she added.
Almosen said that what will become of the family remains unclear at this time. “Finding a solution is never easy. If we add to that cultural differences and the fact the person is far removed from their community...”
The state must offer families more efficient support within he first year, after that immigrants are on their own. Even if the man is convicted of domestic violence, he will not be sent back to his home country. “He is definitely not a national security threat, in which case we do not deport people to Syria or other conflict zones,” Almosen said.
The court decided to take the man into custody, while officials had to be prepared for other outcomes. It needs to be ensured during proceedings that no one is influenced and that the victims are not hurt again.
“Then we would have had to consider where to place the family – in different towns, a women's shelter. We also discussed finding a new place of residence with the social ministry; however, all that would have taken time,” the operative said.
Almosen said it is important this case of violence is not used as a generalization to refer to all refugees. Estonia is currently home to 77 people relocated as part of the European Union migration plan, 30 of whom have small children. None of these people have committed crimes so far.
“People were picked, interviews carried out, threat assessments provided; however, the people who come here are nevertheless ordinary people,” Almosen said. “This means that they are subject to ordinary things happening to them, things that unfortunately also happen in Estonian families. At the same time, we need to keep in mind that stress levels are much higher in those families. Living in a different cultural area with heightened stress levels raises the likelihood of conflicts in personal communication. We must be able to give these kinds of families more support.”
Almosen added that the police are trying to teach families coming from conflict zones about our legal environment and state. Explain the limits between what is allowed and what is not. “We have rules in Estonia, and these rules apply to everyone, irrespective of people's cultural and personal background,” Almosen emphasized.
The police know that the incident at hand is meriting attention only because it took place in a refugee family. Domestic violence is unfortunately so widespread in Estonia that every individual case no longer makes the news. “Perhaps there are cases of domestic violence in the very next building from that family. And we would like it very much if society would pay attention and voice zero tolerance also in those cases,” Almosen said.
“Cases of violence in intimate relationships regrettably occur often in Estonia. It makes no difference what nationality and cultural background people have, they still tend to solve their problems using physical force. However, there can be no justification for violence, and luckily reports of such cases reach authorities more and more often,” Saar added.