The independent MEP, Indrek Tarand, explained in an interview with Ida-Viru county newspaper Põhjarannik his position with regards to Mediterranean migration crisis, in which he appeared to understand the concerns of Estonians, but nevertheless expressed support for the EU plan to admit refugees.
Tarand underlined the fact that there are more than 50 million displaced persons around the world and contrary to wide-spread Estonian perception of these people being economic migrants, a large part of them are genuine refugees fleeing wars, conflicts or religious violence.
He said that defining who's 'us' and who's 'them' is a very difficult ethical question. “Unfortunately it's not like a football match where one team is playing in red shirts and another one in blue, and in the field, it's the referee with his whistle who makes sure that all the rules are followed,” he said in an interview.
Tarand seemed to point out a hypocrisy among some fellow Estonians. “When President Barack Obama visited Estonia and quoted our poet Marie Under, it touched and moved many. Yet, it doesn't stop many people expressing their intolerance towards black people in anonymous online comment sections,” he said. “We're lucky that the White House doesn't follow Delfi (the most popular Estonian online portal) comment section, otherwise they might think that 'hey, what's the point of defending these chaps'.”
Tarand appeared to have an empathy for local concerns as well. “I do remember the childhood fears about strangers. During the Soviet occupation, we were always worried about the influx of foreigners, as the Moscow-initiated industrial immigration was so unpredictable.”
However, Tarand reminded that approximately 200,000 people have left Estonia in last 20 years, effectively leaving the already relatively spacious country underpopulated in many areas. “Many Estonians criticized the EC's migration quota, but if [EC President] Jean-Claude Juncker had been a very sinister man, he could have taken into account that Estonia is one of the least populated countries in Europe. By comparison, there are 430 persons per square kilometer in the Netherlands, but just 29 in Estonia.”
On June 26, EU government heads agreed not to follow through with the EC's migrant quota plan to solve the Mediterranean refugee crisis. It was decided that a voluntary agreement between the countries is preferable to a forced obligation. However, EU leaders agreed that a new proposal will be put forward in July on how to resettle the 60,000 refugees, 40,000 of whom are currently in Italy and Greece, and 20,000 in refugee camps outside of the EU. This will be based on all member states agreeing to resettle asylum seekers on voluntary basis.
Estonia will now get a stronger say in how many refugees it will receive. The National Audit Office of Estonia is currently preparing an audit to analyze the capacity of the state in various areas, including education, social protection, integration, healthcare and so on, to accept refugees. Minister of Internal Affairs Hanno Pevkur said Estonia is capable of accepting between 84 and 156 refugees.
The issue had previously deeply polarized the opinions in the country.
Editor: S. Tambur