State preparing for mass immigration

PHOTO: PantherMedia / Scanpix

The Ministry of Internal Affairs is working on draft legislation to allow state agencies to handle a situation where an extraordinary number of immigrants arrive in Estonia in a short time.

For example, the kind of situation Europe faced in 2016 when it saw hundreds of thousands of refugees.

The bill first and foremost concerns citizens from third countries who come to Estonia illegally (so-called illegal immigrants) and those applying for asylum.

Draft legislation prescribes exceptions to normal procedure. For example, by allowing the authorities to detain people for seven days instead of the current 48 hours in order to identify them.

Persons who have crossed the border illegally could be detained outside designated detention centers that offer a limited number of places. Estonia only has a single detention center in Harku today. A new detention center attached to the Tallinn Prison with room for 120 immigrants will be completed later this year. If currently family members are detained together, that would not be mandatory in extraordinary situations in the future.

Deputy head of the ministry’s citizenship and migration policy department Birgit Lüüs said that special circumstances would warrant the use of large buildings with suitable conditions as temporary detention locations.

“We are not prescribing fixed locations; rather we do not want to limit these places to detention centers,” Lüüs said.

She said the bill follows the European Union’s mandatory returns directive but is also necessary on practical considerations.

A corresponding emergency is, for example, a situation where vital services are disrupted. The Police and Border Guard Board’s risk analysis designates as an extraordinary situation caused by mass immigration one where at least 3,000 foreigners arrive in Estonia in small groups in a short time.

Lüüs said that everything depends on the specific situation and the figure warranting an emergency might also be much smaller, 500 or 1,000 people for example.

Estonia registered 434 cases of illegal migration last year. This meant apprehending 928 foreigners on Estonian soil which is roughly 50 percent more than last year. Statistics also includes cases where people have overstayed their visa and other illegal stays.

The number of cases and detainees has grown since Estonia joined the Schengen area, while Estonia remains in the region sporting the lowest migration pressure from the Mediterranean.

Draft legislation is passing through its first round of approval and should land on the government’s desk in fall.