Today, refugee aid organizations submitted a request for explanation to the Ministry of Justice, wishing to know why their representatives were not invited to the roundtable on refugee policy held on Monday.
“Indeed, none of the organizations that are active in assisting asylum seekers or protecting their interests on a daily basis were invited to the roundtable held by the Ministry of Justice,” stated Eero Janson, the Chairman at Estonian Refugee Council, to the news portal of Estonian Public Broadcasting.
At the roundtable, which was attended by Minister of Justice Urmas Reinsalu and Minister of Social Protection Margus Tsahkna, rules and main principles were agreed that could regulate the integration of arriving refugees in the Estonian society.
Janson explained that Estonian refugee organizations hold a regular roundtable of their own, attended by Estonian Refugee Council, Estonian Human Rights Centre and the Johannes Mihkelson Centre, as well as the International Organization for Migration’s Office in Estonia and UNHCR Northern Europe as observers.
“None of these organizations were invited to join the Ministry of Justice’s roundtable, even though the objective set for the roundtable was to discuss the management of refugee policy. If any topic related to refugees is on the table at any ministry, these interest groups ought to be involved at all times, not hear about the results of the roundtable through the media,” said Janson.
The request for explanation that is signed by the leaders of all three organizations contains the question, why the representatives of Estonian Human Rights Centre, Estonian Refugee Council and Johannes Mihkelson Centre were not involved at the roundtable. In addition, it is asked, what the basis was for selecting the organizations that were invited to the roundtable.
The request for explanation highlights that in 2008–2015, for example, the Ministry of the Interior funded the support person service to refugees provided by the Johannes Mihkelson Centre (JMK), and recently, the Ministry of the Interior renewed the funding of JMK’s support person service up to 2018, and the list continues. “All of this shows that the state has supported these services for years and deems them necessary in connection with integrating the refugees. Therefore, it is even more incomprehensible, why this time, the state’s own partners that are active in aiding refugees on a daily basis and could provide valuable additional information based on experience of handing the target group, were not involved at the roundtable,” the request added.
The Ministry of Justice did not deem it necessary to involve the refugee organizations at the roundtable. “No specific rules to be established for refugees were discussed at the roundtable, but issues related to protection of constitutional rights that require regulation in connection with changes in the society in terms of the whole Estonian legal order,” argued Maria-Elisa Tuulik, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice.
According to Tuulik, those attending the roundtable named several issues that need to be discussed. “The objective of the first meeting was to assess, along with the different authorities, nationwide women’s, children’s and human rights law enforcement organizations, whether the topic needed further discussion. The answer was a unanimous ‘yes’,” said Tuulik.
“The participants also included representatives of religious organizations, because people’s constitutional right to religious freedom needs to be assessed and considered in any kind of legislation,” the spokesperson added. For example, mufti Ildar Muhhamedšin, the head imam of the Estonian Islamic Congregation, was invited to the roundtable.
It was agreed at the roundtable that the ministry will prepare its own report on issues that require regulation, and will present it for discussion to a wider circle of organizations. The three organizations active in aiding asylum seekers stated their definite wish in the request for explanation to participate in the following refugee-related discussions held at the Ministry of Justice.
Translated by Nele Sillaots