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Cut it Out
Published Postimees  28 May 2013

What's up with the immigration people?

On lots of different levels and in lots of different ways the authorities; whether there are border guards, police, or civil servants drafting bills; appear to be getting things horribly wrong.

I will tell three stories. They all have to do with immigration and are otherwise unconnected. They all have an underlying theme.

The first story is my own story. I am aware that police officers and border guards do difficult and necessary jobs under challenging circumstances. I am also aware that the police and border guards have done good things in the past, BUT....guys could you please stop harassing me.

I have been stopped three times in the last month, once in Old Town, once in Kristiine centre and most recently at the Port of Tallinn when I was coming back from Sweden.

At the port, I was with my Estonian family. My niece who is six is scared of police. She thinks naughty the police will carry her off to prison. Then she saw a police man heading towards us. The little girl let go of my wife's hand and fled in the crowd.

The policeman just kept on coming, he was so focussed on stopping me, he didn't even notice that I was part of a family group, or that he had frightened away a little girl.

“Can I see you passport please,” he asked.

Up ahead of I could see two gentlemen who appeared to be middle-Eastern origin, anyway they had darker skin than the typical Estonian. They had also been stopped by the police.

The second story is the big news in the ex-patriot community, though it is not as big news in the mainstream press.

Ex-pats who run small businesses have just discovered they have to cough up more money to the tax man or leave the country. 

Readers should understand that most ex-pats exist in a parallel universe which sometimes intersects with the “real” universe Estonians live in. They don't know what laws are passed, even when directly effected.

The Alien Act passed last year requires a foreigner from a non-EU country to earn 1.24 more than the national average in order to maintain their residence permit. It's a direct result of the residence scandal, and the hysterical rush to stop those Russians.

The act has succeeded, as the saying goes, in throwing the baby out with the bath water (üle võõli keerama).

Sometimes well intention laws are badly drafted. Lawyers and civil servants rush things. They work on a tight deadline. Those effected by the law feel this is what has happened here.

Louis Zezeran the Australian owner of Comedy Estonia is feeling the squeeze, basically all money he would have put into the company under the new laws he is forced to pay to himself and of course to the tax man, which means that his company may go out of business.

“Both the government officials and my lawyer have confirmed that under the new rules my company has to pay significant more tax to allow me to keep living in Estonia,“ he said.

“I am working with my lawyer now to put together the info.”

“I appreciate we need to stop those who want to make a scam, however what worries me is that the rules for my residency were changed after I was already here and I had already built a clearly legitimate business for two years. I believe this can be worrying to foreign business people who look to stability in a political environment when thinking of where to invest.”

“They could have allowed anyone who is currently here to stay on this old law, however it seems they specifically made a change to effect those already here,” Zezeran said.

For a man facing a choice between possible bankruptcy or exile from a country he has grown to love, Zezeran is remarkably sanguine.

“I try to remember this is a political decision. Estonian people have treated myself and my business very warmly and I do appreciate that.”

The last story is about Namir. He is a refugee from Afghanistan who had to flee for his life after decades of war. He had a hard childhood, he lost both his parents and two sisters. He had to decide whether to risk the life and his loved ones in his home city or go to another country. There is also Matata for East Congo. He lost his parents and sister and brother and fled to a neighbouring country where he was locked up by armed men, beaten and tortured. Then there's Abdan who fled Libya when his brother was hanged for political reasons.

You may have heard of these people before. You may have got a postcard explaining what a refugee is. There's even a website explaining how the whole system works. But if you look closely you will notice something is missing.

There is no mention of Estonia!

Namir, Matata and Abdan are real people though the names are fictitious, but they didn't come to Estonia. I have it on good authority from the Human Rights Centre that they were unable to find even one person who had been granted refugee status in Estonia whom they could use to illustrate their point. In other words of the 67 people granted status in Estonia since in the past 15 years, all, or almost all, have moved on, to Sweden probably.

I believe that most Asylum-seekers are not really refugees they are economic migrants, I worked in this field for a decade so I have some knowledge. But that's the point. If a person comes to Europe to make money, he goes to where the money is, as soon as he can.

Asylum-seekers will not stay, they are not a problem, they are not even an issue, So why all the scary pronouncements from the Academy of Security Sciences? Why all the public angst about a problem that doesn't exist? And most of all why the detention centres?

Detention centres were deliberately set up in places like Germany and Britain as deterrents. They are horrible places, they are meant to be, detainees rioted. The hope was potential asylum seekers would hear of the detention centres and avoid these countries.

Here deterrents won't work. People don't know where Estonia is anyway. Putting asylum-seekers in detention centres or prisons, is not only inhuman it's pointless.

The decision-makers don't always get it wrong. As I will explain in more detail in another article, the Estonian authorities had no choice but to turn down the Afghani interpretor who claimed asylum whilst still in Afghanistan. Under international law, you can not be a refugee, if you are still in your country of origin.

All this bring us to the theme raised at the beginning. The debate on immigration on both sides is governed by emotion and misinformation, rather that pragmatism and facts.

Some people want to help this one man because he helped Estonia. He can't be helped.Others want to stop refugees from swarming into the country. They won't swarm.Still others want to make Russians pay. They are making legitimate small businesses pay.Yet others want the police and border controls to be toughened up. They are already too tough.

So it was that a policeman charged up to me at the port and demanded to see my passport. I showed him my Estonian ID, which states that I am a permanent Estonian resident, that surprised him.

His superiors are not fools, they know somebody who is in Europe without permission, wants to leave Estonia for Sweden, not the other way round. But not everybody realises this.

I believe this whole incident was a phoney public relations exercise.

Somebody, somewhere, wants onlookers to think: “look, the police are protecting our borders.”Unfortunately, what onlookers were probably thinking was: “look, police are harassing that journalist who works for Postimees,” or simply: “look, they are scaring the little girl.”

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