Estonia fears influx of refugees

Tõlk Omar (vasakul) andmas Kabulis ETV saate «Välisilm» toimetajale Tarmo Maibergile intervjuud, mis jõudis eetrisse viis nädalat tagasi.

PHOTO: ERR/repro

Background for denial of asylum for Omar, interpreter for Estonian military in Afghanistan and applying for refugee status in Estonia.

The governmental Security Committee sits down every Monday. A group of people, whose meetings are not exhibited, the topics discussed not a matter of public knowledge. Its dignified membership includes prime minister, minister of the interior, minister of defence, minister of foreign affairs, minister of justice and minister of finance, as well as representatives of Security Police Board and Information Board.

At two meetings of the said committee, at the end of April, decision was also passed regarding the young Afghan Omar, serving as interpreter for members of Estonian Defence Forces mission in Afghanistan. Or, rather, the decision was not passed, as, in the committee’s thinking, a decision would have meant a «yes» for asylum application, filed by the man at the beginning of March.

«Me and my family think that it is most important that I leave. If I stay in Afghanistan, then the government that was 15-20 years ago in Taliban times will deal with me. They will take my life,» Omar told the Välisilm programme for Estonian TV, aired on April 8th.

A first for Estonia – and an uncomfortable one. We have participated in the work of the coalition forces and that mainly to earn the telephone call rights i.e. should we find ourselves in trouble, help will come. As for post-war stuff – for that, there were no precedents, no regulation.

Committee members sat around the table, listened to the enforcement structures’ reports and were convinced that there was no confidence to make an exception for Omar – a precedent with unforeseeable results. Reports on Omar were contradictory, did not inspire full trust.

It was admitted: we cannot open a door, not having clarity about the world it opens to. Cultural differences, the unbelievable force of religion. If you say «yes» to one, soon there will be a waiting line of a hundred at the door, whose backgrounds would be impossible to find out, with finality. And: where do you draw the line? Possibly, the decision would become rather the rule, not an exception.

Omar did not desire asylum for himself only, but for his family as well, which would have meant a couple of dozens of people. People, whom we would not have been able to check, the committee acknowledged.

In the parliamentary fractions of Riigikogu, the arguments against allowing war-refugees into Estonia was the belief/awareness that getting asylum for risk-related reasons had become a Taliban sales point. It was assumed that once we let one asylum-seeker in, 60 more would follow with their families and, in five years, we would end up with 6,000 Afghanis. That would make for a separate community demanding a mosque and state support. It was discussed that the state should cover their living, studying and integration expenses.

In the past month and a half, there has been a string of important statements, impacting the process. When that say that the issue was decided by Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, this has truth to it, as a nod by the Prime Minister as head of the Security Committee – rather, the shaking of his head – was naturally the weightiest after hearing the information. Although, after the statement by President Toomas Hendrik Ilves on April 4th («It’s our duty to help»), all were in a fix.

In matters like this, leading politicians do not contradict each other. The more so that, after that, foreign minister Urmas Paet visited Afghanistan and let it be known, at the beginning of May, that the Omar decision is up to the Minister of Defence, first of all.

The entire story came under excessive public limelight and the State Chancellery’s pre-planned communication fell apart. Following the statements by Mr Ilves and Mr Paet, it was not possible for others to confront, the humanism slogan being the strongest. Nobody dared to confront it and accusations followed: there is no clear and straightforward reason for denial.

Significantly, however, the Afghani president Hamid Karzai, visiting Estonia at the end of April, said he saw no reason for the cooperating Afghanis to flee the country. With the final decision, a weighty word was spoken by Harri Tiido, in 2008-2011 the Estonian ambassador Afghanistan, who said on April 12th that he would not grant Omar asylum in Estonia.