Rumm: If Estonia had shown solidarity earlier, refugee quota would be smaller today ({{commentsTotal}})

Hannes Rumm, the head of the European Commission's representation in Estonia, said the European Commission (EC) decided in favor of a direct quota system because member states' talk of voluntary action has proved to be just empty promises.

Rumm told ERR radio news that the EC's proposal has been an unusually fast reaction to a crisis situation that unfolded when an exceptionally large number of people perished in the Mediterranean in April. "The EU simply cannot accept that thousands of people are dying at its doorstep and we are watching it live from our mobile phones." Hence there were no talks held with individual member states before the plan was unveiled.

The EC has a responsibility to offer a solution to the problem and now it is up to the heads of state to decide whether this solution is viable or not.

According to Rumm, it is possible that the quota system will not be approved and member states will be allowed to decide the number of refugees they accept on voluntary basis.

Estonia should have shown solidarity earlier

Rumm also explained that under the current proposal, Estonia receives more refugees because it has hitherto kept its doors shut and failed to show solidarity.

"There are 11 countries in the EU that have not accepted any asylum seekers to date," Rumm said, adding that Estonian officials and representatives have suggested the country receive some people voluntarily, even if very few, just to show solidarity.

"So far the government has not thought it right, although during the 2011 refugee crisis in Malta, which only has 400,000 inhabitants, Lithuania made a symbolic step and resettled ten asylum seekers."

"People responsible for internal security naturally think in the lines of 'no person, no problem', meaning that if we accept someone we might run into trouble," Rumm said.

Foreign policy experts, on the other hand, have said that we should accept at least a few people just to show solidarity to those countries who already have a real problem in their hands. If we fail to support those who need our help, we cannot presume that they will have our backs in the future.

"Looking at the quota formula, one must admit that those who recommended we take on at least a symbolic number of refugees were right," Rumm concluded.

The criteria by which quotas for specific countries were calculated take into account two major factors - the size of the population (40 percent), the total GDP (40 percent), and two corrective factors (applied inversely) – the number of the asylum applications received and resettlement places already offered in the past 5 years (10 percent), and the unemployment rate (10 percent). In the latter cases, the lower the existing asylum application numbers and the lower the unemployment rate, the more individuals a member state should relocate.

Occupation excuse does not apply

A number of Estonian politicians have drawn attention to a large number of immigrants who arrived at Estonia after World War II, saying that these people continue to cause social problems. Rumm does not agree with this reasoning.

"First of all, I am not so sure the Russian-speaking part of the population is the root cause of social problems," he said, pointing out that their employment rate does not differ much from that of Estonian-speakers.

According to Rumm, Estonia has played the occupation card for too long and not just when it comes to immigration. "This argument has convinced neither the Commission nor most other member states," he said, adding that the EC treats ethnic Russians in Estonia as citizens or permanent residents, and not as aliens.

Editor: M. Oll

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