Analysis of counselling services for applicants for international protection and returnees

In 1997, the basis for the legislation regulating the legal status of asylum seekers and the grounds for their stay in Estonia was laid when the Refugee Act (PagS) was adopted. It defined an asylum seeker as a foreigner who applies to the government for asylum while staying in Estonia, including at a border post. A new period of ‘refugee policy’ started in 2004 when Estonia joined the European Union. The Act on Granting International Protection to Foreigners, which replaced the Refugee Act that had been in force for almost nine years, came into force in 2006. Since then, the situation of asylum seekers and beneficiaries of protection has changed significantly.

In addition to applying for asylum and receiving protection, the return of the foreigner to his or her country of origin is part of the functioning of the asylum system. A return can be a decision taken by the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) or the Defence Police (KAPO), which obliges a foreigner without a valid reason to stay in Estonia to leave Estonia, including an asylum seeker who has received a rejection decision or an asylum seeker who has given up applying for asylum and decided to return home.

Individual counselling is provided to all these target groups, i.e. applicants for protection, beneficiaries and returnees. The counselling aims to provide the foreigner with reliable and impartial information on his/her rights and obligations, free of charge and in a language he/she understands, throughout the entire procedure for international protection and/or the obligation to leave. Such counselling is provided directly in the accommodation centre, in the detention centre, in the offices of the prefectures of the Police and Border Guard Board, as well as in writing and by telephone. In addition, a foreigner who is a victim of human trafficking can receive victim support counselling from the Social Insurance Board, and the Labour Inspectorate offers employment counselling to all persons.

As an efficient and high-quality counselling system is the basis for the achievement of such objectives, the central aim of this study is to analyse the current and functioning counselling system and to make practical suggestions and recommendations for improving the service.

The study has two broad objectives:

  1. To analyse and assess how the current counselling service provided by the Police and Border Guard Board (PBGB) to applicants for international protection and returnees, funded by the European Union Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF), meets the expectations of the parties involved (applicants for international protection, returnees, processors, legal aid providers, human rights monitoring organisations and institutions).
  2. Based on the information gathered during the analysis, draw up recommendations and proposals on how best to support the target group of foreigners through the counselling service and improve and develop international protection and return procedures.

The analysis of secondary sources will be relied upon to achieve the study’s objectives. A combination of different qualitative methods – individual and focus group interviews with target and stakeholder groups – will be used. In addition, the results will be validated with counsellors and processors of applicants, beneficiaries and returnees of international protection, including representatives of the Ministry of Interior.