Five Estonian members of the European Parliament – Marju Lauristin, Urmas Paet, Tunne Kelam, Indrek Tarand, Kaja Kallas – who had gathered at ERR's Vikerraadio on Thursday to discuss the current Mediterranean migration crisis among other topics, agreed that Estonia needs to show solidarity with the rest of Europe.
Marju Lauristin (Social Democrats) said that the refugee issue is a “human tragedy” for the whole of Europe and the most important task is to save lives.
Lauristin suggested to work out an efficient and long-term plan, together with the Scandinavian countries. “There has been a talk of setting up special camps for immigrants where they could be taught introductory lessons into new society. Right now, Sweden alone is carrying the burden of accepting new immigrants. Finland is not participating much and Estonia practically not at all. Nordic countries and the Baltic states could find a common solution, which would be a standard for other EU members,” she said, reminding that Estonian refugees fled the Soviet occupation in 1944 and found a safe haven in Sweden. “We have to show solidarity.”
Liberal MEP Urmas Paet (Reform Party) drew attention to many additional aspects why Estonia should show more initiative in the migration crisis. The southern states of the EU feel frustration that they don't get enough support from the European Union in dealing with African migrants, which in turn may undermine the concept of passport- and border control-free Schengen Area, currently comprising 26 European countries. “We wouldn't want to see the principle of free movement weakened or Schengen agreement terminated, would we?”
The other aspect is the possibility of encountering migration issues from other directions, such as Russia, in which case – unlike the distant Africa – the problem would be felt very close to home in Estonia. “Our eastern neighbor is presently not the most stable country in the world. We cannot rule out circumstances where asylum seekers start moving from the east – and sharing a border with Russia, Estonia would have to cope with them. How would we like a situation where we have to deal with a great number of displaced persons, but other countries would tell us to get on with the problem ourselves?” Paet explained.
Paet also recommended Estonia to participate in the pan-European refugee-program. He conceded that Estonian public opinion is not very immigration-friendly, but emphasized nevertheless that it is important to start with step-by-step initiatives. “We are not talking about massive influx of refugees, but we should begin showing some empathy by accepting and ensuring a normal life for a number of orphans, for example.”
The conservative MEP Tunne Kelam (IRL) was more cautious and called a more flexible approach in the question of accepting immigrants, although he also agreed that Estonia should take part in the EU pilot project on migrant resettlement, currently operating on a voluntary basis.
Kelam said that most important task is to focus on political stability in north Africa, followed by targeting people-traffickers, but member states must be able to retain an ability to decide themselves on how many asylum seekers they accept and from where. “We have to remember that Estonia may need to be ready for the influx of Ukrainian refugees, for example.”
Indrek Tarand (independent) and Kaja Kallas (Reform Party) echoed the words of other Estonian MEPs. Tarand stressed that as a member of the European Union, Estonia has to be involved in shaping the EU policies and have its own standpoint. “Our position should take into account our own historical perspective,” he said, hinting, just like Lauristin, at the Estonian "great escape" in 1944, when about 80,000 people fled to the West before the Soviet Red Army overran the country.
Editor: S. Tambur