According to the Refugee Convention, asylum-seekers cannot be punished for irregular border crossing.
Estonia has joined the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which states that countries must not impose penalties on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened, enter the country without authorisation. This provision also applies to asylum-seekers who have travelled through other countries, but were unable to find protection from persecution in those countries.
Nonetheless, Estonian authorities have repeatedly imposed financial penalties on asylum-seekers who cross the border irregularly. This is against international law and does not take into account the specific situation of asylum-seekers, which is very different from that of ordinary immigrants. Asylum-seekers may not be able to meet the legal requirements for entering Estonia, for example, they often cannot obtain the necessary travel documents due to escaping from persecution.
The Estonian Human Rights Centre recently helped a refugee family who were fined for irregular border crossing, by submitting a claim for damages to the state. By decision of the Office of the Prosecutor General, the money will now be returned to the family, which will help them to start a new life in Estonia.
As a local partner for the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR, the Estonian Human Rights Centre provides legal assistance to asylum-seekers and refugees also on other matters. More than 40 asylum-seekers and 20 beneficiaries of international protection have been provided legal counselling this year. A number of appeals have been submitted to courts to challenge unjust detention orders and rejections of asylum applications, several positive decisions have been achieved.
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