A draft amendment to the Asylum Act would increase the risk of refoulement for refugees sentenced to imprisonment for certain types of crimes. The Supreme Court ruled that the Family Law does not prohibit recognition of same-sex marriages registered in other countries.
Refugees and asylum-seekers
By the end of the year, Estonia had relocated 141 asylum-seekers from Italy and Greece under the EU Emergency Relocation Scheme; however, of these, 71 people had left the country by the end of the year.
In accordance with the November 2016 decision of the Tallinn Appeal Court, which ruled against the blanket application of the “safe third country” concept for applications from asylum-seekers entering from the Russian Federation, the merits of eight individual asylum requests were assessed. These cases were pending at the end of the year.
In May, the government presented a draft amendment to the Asylum Act. The draft extended the exceptions under which refoulement – the forcible return of people to countries where they are at real risk of persecution – was allowed in situations where refugees have been sentenced to imprisonment for certain types of crimes. UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, raised concerns that the proposed amendment was not compliant with the UN Refugee Convention. In particular, it recommended that the government clarify the term “danger to the community of Estonia”, which was included among the grounds for removal of a refugee from the country.
A number of refugees faced legal uncertainty and difficulty in accessing services as a consequence of the March 2016 Supreme Court decision which held that asylum-seekers who received a negative decision on their application immediately lose their status. The NGO Estonian Human Rights Centre raised concern over access to legal aid for asylum-seekers held in detention centres. This lack of access particularly affected asylum-seekers who entered the country via its border with Russia.
The lack of thorough investigations into racially motivated crimes against refugees and migrants persisted.
Discrimination – ethnic minorities
80,000 people resident in Estonia remained stateless – almost 7% of the population, most of them Russian speakers. Roma continued to suffer discrimination across a range of social and economic rights.
rights of Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people
In June, the Supreme Court held that although the Family Law does not provide for marriage of same-sex couples, it does not preclude recognition of same-sex marriages registered in other countries. The decision involved an Estonian-US lesbian couple initially forced to leave Estonia after the authorities had refused to provide one of the partners with a residence permit.