May 1995 - June 1996
the V Ministerial Session
Kalmar 2-3 July 1996
The Commissioner of the Council of the Baltic Sea States
on Democratic Institutions and Human Rights,
including the Rights of Persons belonging to Minorities
3.4 RATIFICATION OF THE 1951 UN CONVENTION AND THE 1967 PROTOCOL RELATING TO THE STATUS OF REFUGEES
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have not yet ratified these important international instruments, and I have discussed this issue with various interlocutors during my visits to all three countries.
The question of how to offer international protection to persons in need of it, whilst controlling economic migration, is indeed a challenge. Although the development of fair and efficient procedures for refugee status determination may be a complicated, expensive and lengthy process, no asylum policy can be effective without making this distinction between immigrants and asylum seekers. Fast and efficient asylum procedures should be the common goal of all European countries.
I agree with the point often made that sufficient internal legislation and facilities are a precondition for ratification. The international community has a responsibility in this respect to support serious attempts to establish a humane refugee policy in every possible way. I have asked whether the authorities in all three countries would be interested in some form of cooperation with the Danish authorities, especially with regard to advice and assistance e.g. relating to fee establishment of reception centres and facilities, and I have offered to act as an intermediary, if necessary.
At present Lithuania is the only country which has adopted a law on refugees (the law has not yet entered into force) and a cooperation between the Danish and Lithuanian authorities is currently taking place.
The Danish Immigration Service is the body responsible for Denmark's participation in the various activities which takes place in cooperation with the other Nordic countries and international organisations such as IOM and UNHCR aiming to support the introduction of a coherent refugee policy and administration in the three countries, enabling compliance wife the 1951 Convention. I cooperate with the Danish Immigration Service and we keep each other informed of respective initiatives.
It is my hope that the necessary refugee legislation will be passed in the very near future in Estonia and Latvia, and that it will prove possible for all three countries, in spite of the economical and administrative difficulties, to ratify and implement the above-mentioned international instruments as soon as possible. Such a development is also of the utmost importance with regard to the aspirations to join the European Union.
Recent positive developments in this field in both Estonia and Latvia are to be welcomed. In Estonia a committee for drafting a refugee policy was appointed by the Cabinet in April 1996. During my visit to Latvia in April 1996, I was informed of the Government's intention to appoint a working group entrusted with a similar task. These initiatives can only be commended, and I will continue to pay close attention to this important issue.
Russia has ratified the Convention and the Protocol. During my visit to Moscow in March 1995 I discussed the asylum situation in Russia with the Chairman of the Commission on Citizenship Matters of the President. I noted that it was important - even in difficult period - that Russia gave asylum instead of sending people back during the application period. I also asked about the cooperation between UNHCR and Russia, and about the present status of legislation.
I was informed, that a law covering citizens of other CIS states had been passed, but that the open borders with other CIS countries still created problems. A law covering people, who came to Russia for economic reasons, had also been passed, while a new asylum law was under way.
I underlined that genuine political refugees should be separated from other groups and should be given political asylum, whether or not they were citizens of other CIS countries. I have also discussed this situation with local federal authorities.