Estonian refugee policy lacks of humanity

Recently, Õhtuleht has published two articles* about the Nigerian man Abioye, represented by the Human Rights Center in court. Namely, the Police and Border Guard Board (PBGP) does not consider him worthy of international protection and wants to expel the Nigerian from the country.

Abioye comes from a radical Islamic family, but has himself converted to Christianity. After the conversion, Abioye’s uncle, a member of the terrorist organisation Boko Haram, began the persecution of Abioye’s family, which has resulted in the killing of several family members, relatives and acquaintances, and the repeated attacks on Abioye himself.

Abioye fled Nigeria and seeked the Estonian state for protection because his life was in danger. “I thought that Estonia is a safe place and suitable for me. All I wanted was peace and the opportunity to live in my faith,” told Abioye, who is currently based in a detention center in Tallinn, to Õhtuleht. The PBGP does not believe the sinister reasons for his escape from Nigeria and consider the asylum seeker simply lying.

However, Uljana Ponomarjova, the Estonian Human Rights Centre’s refugee lawyer, confirms that there is a lot of evidence from Nigeria which prove that Abioye is telling the truth. The Center’s refugee lawyers carry out research in advance and carefully choose who to represent. We do not protect asylum seekers in court who lie about their background. “The story of each asylum seeker is unique and stereotypes must be avoided when evaluating statements. All the more so because asylum seekers are often in a vulnerable mental state when they arrive in a safe country and need psychological support, stability and a safe environment due to their experiences,” said Ponomarjova.

The court also found that much of Abioye’s story was credible. The centre’s director, Egert Rünne, told Õhtuleht that the court annul most of the decisions of the PBGP refusing to grant asylum, which the Estonian Human Rights Centre has taken to court to protect asylum seekers. “This shows that there is a more general problem that is not related to just one or two cases,” Rünne told the journalist.

He explained that the PBGP officials tend to assume that the asylum seeker is lying and that this problem reflects the general strict refugee policy of the Estonian state. “The applicant has had to live through a lot of challenging things in his homeland and it is heartless to immediately assume that everything he is saying is wrong. If a person deserves protection, he or she should be given it,” Rünne is sure.

Estonian Human Rights Centre’s opinion is that, even if there is the slightest suspicion that a person’s life may be endangered when he or she is repatriated, he or she must be granted international protection. The center has stood for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers since its inception. We work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and advise more than seventy asylum seekers a year. We will go to court with a dozen of them, and the Abioye case is one of them. One of the aims of such strategic litigation cases is to make the asylum procedure more efficient and fair.

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