UNHCR welcomes two Baltic States acceding to the international refugee convention

Press Releases, 21 February 1997

UNHCR welcomes the recent ratification by Estonia and Lithuania of the international Convention on refugees. Refugees can now seek asylum in two of the Baltic States.

Lithuania acceded to the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol relating to the status of Refugees on 21 January, followed by Estonia on 19 February. The two countries had also adopted national legislation on refugees prior to acceding to the major refugee instrument.

"Baltic States have been plagued by waves of transit migration ever since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Many of the migrants used illegal means to go west. I am pleased that refugees fleeing persecution can now seek asylum in the Baltics without having to continue their dangerous journey," John Horekens, UNHCR's Regional Director for Europe, said.

UNHCR Regional Representative for the Baltic States, Hans Thoolen, also expressed great satisfaction and added, "what is important to note in addition to the ceremonial signing of the Convention is the adoption of the national law on refugees by these two countries."

The decision of the two Baltic States to accede to the international refugee instrument confirms the emergence of growing cohesion in the Baltic Sea area, which replaces the old division between the East and the West. UNHCR welcomes such sub-regional effort to strengthen humanitarian values and civil security.

The 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol are the most important international legal instrument for the protection of refugees. Including Estonia and Lithuania, 134 countries have ratified either or both the Convention and the Protocol.