Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, a governmental actor, verified by the GDP, reported that no moratorium on new immigration detention orders had been established due to the pandemic and that no such measure was under consideration.
According to the source, the Estonian Police and Border Guard (PBGB) did not release any immigration detainees; however, there were only a few people in immigration detention at the start of the pandemic. During the state of emergency declared by the government (12 March to 17 May 2020), the court allowed the detention of two persons. In another decision, the court did not give the PBGB permission to detain a person. The court considered travel restrictions and personal circumstances to reach their decision. In another case, according to data provided by the PBGB to the governmental actor who responded to the survey, the police board decided not to detain two persons waiting to be expelled during the emergency situation, but rather to apply surveillance measures. The PBGB considered that there was no threat of absconding as border controls were re-established at the internal borders of the country.
In addition, the source stated that there were a few cases where the PBGB applied to the court to receive permission to prolong the detention of individuals. However, in these cases, the court did not analyse whether detention continued to be justified in the context of the pandemic. In only one case, the court prohibited the extension of a detention order as it could not be justified on any ground. The court only noted the emergency situation as an additional aspect to be considered.
The governmental actor also stated that two released detainees were allowed to live with their relatives. However, the PBGB did not arrange accommodation for these persons. Both individuals had provided assurances to the PBGB that they had sufficient means to meet daily needs.
The source indicated that persons seeking international protection reside in two accommodation units located in Vao and Vägeva. These units are administered by Hoolekandeteenused Ltd, which is contracted by the Estonian Ministry of Social Affairs. The function of the centres is to arrange, as necessary, for the provision of services in assistance to applicants during proceedings for international protection or proceedings for temporary protection, as provided by section 32 of the Act on Granting International Protection to Aliens. During the emergency period, newly arrived persons were accommodated separately and tested for Covid-19 if deemed necessary. Medical assistance is also provided in the centres.
According to the source, during the emergency situation, visits to the Rae detention centre, located in the Rae Municipality, were suspended, except for officials, lawyers, and National Preventive Mechanism staff. New detainees were held separately until an initial medical check was carried out and if any Covid-19 symptoms were observed, the detainee would be tested for the disease. The source said that the number of detained non-citizens had been relatively low in the past months. For instance, on 12 April, there were 10 detainees at the centre, which remained constant until 15 June. From 8 April to 15 June, there were only 7 new non-citizens that arrived at the Rae detention centre and 7 were released at that time. So far, there have not been any Covid-19 cases within the detention centre.
The source reported that deportations were not halted by the PBGB during the emergency period. These were arranged to the countries where it was possible, for example to the Russian Federation and to Latvia. During the emergency period, eight people were deported; since the emergency period ended, nine more had been deported as of 2 July. Currently, deportations are being carried out to the Russian Federation, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, and Bulgaria.
The country also reintroduced border controls during the Covid-19 crisis. People were not allowed to enter Estonia, save in particular cases. The PBGB confirmed to the source that people were able to submit applications for international protection. While internal border checks have now ended, restrictions on the right to enter the country are still applicable. According to the source, on 12 March the head of the PBGB issued a decree that prolonged the legal right to stay in Estonia for persons staying legally until the end of the emergency period if the person was unable to return to their country of origin. Nonetheless, these permits expired ten days after the end of the emergency period. Also, the Parliament adopted an amendment to the Aliens Act that enables non-citizens who were already residing in Estonia to continue working in the agricultural sector until 31 July 2020.
The head of the PBGB issued a decree suspending all proceedings related to residence permits and immigration status. However, the Chancellor of Justice found that this decree was unlawful and misleading. According to the law, the PBGB is allowed to prolong the deadlines of the proceedings, if circumstances justify the measure, but it is not allowed to suspend all proceedings.
The source also indicated that the government had issued a decree prohibiting the arrival of non-citizens into the country during this period, except in exceptional circumstances. Therefore, non-citizens who had already received permission to come to work in Estonia were refused entry. The Chancellor of Justice nonetheless said that this limitation for foreign workers may no longer be justified and therefore the government has begun allowing workers to enter from other countries as it is possible to apply less restrictive measures.
Some politicians have declared that, taking into account the impact of the pandemic, it is necessary to protect the local labour market and therefore locals should be employed rather than non-citizens. Some restrictions for the employment of non-citizens are currently under consideration, but no legislation has yet been amended.
- Anonymous Governmental actor, Global Detention Project Covid-19 Survey, 2 July 2020.
- Anonymous Governmental actor, Email Exchange with Mario Guido (Global Detention Project), July 2020.
- Hoolekandeteenused Ltd, “Our Partners,” accessed on 3 July 2020, https://www.hoolekandeteenused.ee/majutuskeskus/en/
- Government of Estonia, Act on Granting International Protection to Aliens, 14 December 2005, https://www.riigiteataja.ee/en/eli/530062020004/consolide#03747c61-d1a9-42aa-b556-2fb6e8fd4927
- Global Detention Project, Immigration Detention in Estonia, May 2019, https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/europe/estonia
- Rae Detention Centre, (Global Detention Project, “Immigration Detention in Estonia,” May 2019, https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/europe/estonia/detention-centres/2258/rae-detention-centre)