Police official: illegal entrants often not welcome back home

Toomas Kuuse

PHOTO: Peeter Langovits

Toomas Kuuse, head of Police and Border Guard’s migration bureau, told Postimees in an interview why it often takes so long expelling illegal entrants from Estonia, and how some third world countries seek to enrich themselves on account of emigrants.

Why is it Vietnamese who have chosen Estonia as a crossing point?

Estonia isn’t the only place. As things go with smuggling, once a channel has been created, that’s where people move. As the channel is closed up, immediate danger recedes for Estonia, for a while. Apparently there is no other reason than that the dealers are directly linked to the Vietnamese. People come to Europe based on advertisements at home.

In court, the testimonies of the Vietnamese ranged from being sold into slavery to having come the whole way on their own. What do you believe?

Many source countries live on their immigrants luck once abroad, sending money back home to the relatives.

At the expulsion centre, none has told us they were in slavery. The aim always being to enter Europe. Smuggling is financed by various schemes – some are able to pay all at once, others take loans and pay afterwards from their salaries. The less organised smugglers never go for the latter – they take money in advance.

Why are documents left behind on purpose?

It’s a very widespread attitude: if they can’t identify you, expulsion might not work. Indeed, Estonian law allows for people to be detained for maximum 18 months. If, during that period of time, expulsion has not worked, they are set at liberty. However, their status is not changed and they have to keep coming to the police station to register. Currently, such status is mainly the lot of retired Russian military personnel, concerning whom Russia’s political stance was not to take them back – 8 persons, as far as I know. At present, we have no cases in Estonia of immigrants spending so long in expulsion centre that they would simply have been set at liberty.

Scarcely had the 20 Vietnamese, caught at the beginning of February, arrived at the expulsion centre, as the court was forced to extend the permit of the 22 «earlier» Vietnamese to stay in Estonia. Why is it so difficult to expel them?

At the moment, we have 54 Vietnamese at the expulsion centre. With some, the two-month extension has been granted multiple times. One of them has been at the centre since last June. The period depends on nationality – with the majority of states where people are being sent, Estonia has no readmission agreements. Our application goes to the embassy within a week – with the person’s testimony, fingerprints, background and possible relatives. The embassy itself takes no decision, however, but sends it to local authorities. 

The problem with the Vietnamese, who has spent eight months in Estonia, is that he initially presented false information. Now, a document has been issued to him and he’s leaving soon. Here, however, we have another obstacle: Vietnam doesn’t allow charter flights. We can’t put them all on board of one plane and send the whole bunch; we have to send them a couple at a time, and that’s time consuming. It is worse with some African or former Soviet states, where it takes months for them even to reply. However, Estonia cannot issue travel documents on its own.

How do the countries look upon your expulsion applications?

Vietnam has shown great understanding. They admit that what happened at the start of the year is a shame. With some, like African states for instance, cooperation couldn’t be worse – we have to wait for a long time, send additional enquiries. We had a case with Congo, where the answer never came. As, eventually, the person involved applied for asylum and was granted it, he was released from the centre.

A lot depends on the quality of information concerning the person in the home country. If they have a decent population register, answers come quickly. Just some years back, in Russia the people were registered on regional level, and if a person lied about his or her place of residence, they might well answer from Russia that we have no such person. Even though we had the documents an all. By today, the situation has changed.

Do you sense at times that some countries really do not want their people back?

Sure. I do not want to name these countries, but the reason is not the expenses of bringing them back. The reason is the hope that if the person has the chance of earning much more money abroad, and support relatives at home therewith, this is income for the state. This is what many source countries live on. Cuba, for instance, has the US dollar as a secondary currency. Therefore, very many countries have determined that if the people concerned do not, of their own free will, desire to return, then they are not accepted back, and no documents are issued. There are no international conventions on readmission. Therefore, one of EU’s goals is to enter into readmission agreements with source countries; however, with the largest sources of immigration, the agreements are still lacking.

How is a person expelled?

The majority of people are handed over to Russia and with those we check that they cross the border point. With more distant countries, there are two options. It the person’s return is safe, he/she is willing to go and the air carrier is willing to take him without a convoy, then Estonia just buys him the ticket and takes him to the airport. With those who may resist being expelled or whom the airline is unwilling to fly without convoy, Estonia will have to put the convoy on board. Usually, it’s two persons per one. Should the group expelled be larger, there are options. 

Does that mean that Police and Border Guard Board has people employed who basically fly around the world?

They do it besides the principal job. Dozens of people have been trained for that; last year, we had to add convoy to about 50 people we expelled. This is certainly not majority of cases, as most go to Russia and that includes no expenses. Right now, Estonia can use the EU Return Fund money – used by all member states.