Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas, Defense Minister Sven Mikser and Minister of Social Protection Margus Tsahkna, representing the three coalition partners Reform Party, Social Democrats and IRL respectively, explained on Tuesday the government's position with regards to the pan-European plan to resettle Mediterranean refugees across EU member states.
Displaying a clear sign of unity, all three partners appeared to agree about the need to show solidarity with the country's EU partners, while condemning the scaremongering that has stemmed from some quarters of Estonian society in last few weeks in relation to African refugees.
“The talk about mass immigration is totally unfounded and ridiculous,” Rõivas said in a press conference, a reference to a number of ultra-conservative politicians and activists who claim that admitting any number of asylum seekers to the country is like a 'Trojan Horse', ultimately opening door to tens of thousands more.
He pointed out that already about 4,000 people currently apply for a living permit in Estonia each year, so for comparison, the refugee-intake would form a very small share. To further dispel fears, Rõivas added that he has personally been in touch with Estonian entrepreneurs who would happily employ the resettled migrants and help them to integrate.
Rõivas was supported by Tsahkna, the newly elected head of IRL. “Believe me – and I'm the leader of the most conservative party in this government – there is no reason for fear and panic about immigrants,” he said, inviting fellow countrymen to remain dignified and not to give in to any provocation.
Tsahkna, however, added that considering Estonia “belongs to the Christian cultural sphere“, he would prefer to give Syrian Christians a priority, should Estonia have an opportunity to choose whom to resettle here.
As a minister, Tsahkna is also responsible for the social program that will help the displaced persons integrate into new society. “We will not build huge refugee centers, as feared by many,” re reassured the public.
On June 26, EU government heads agreed not to follow through with the European Commission's mandatory 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.
The prime minister declined to specify the exact number on Tuesday, but indicated that Estonia is likely to resettle up to 200 Mediterranean migrants within next two years.
In a video interview with ERR News, Rõivas explained the government's position and integration plan for displaced persons further.
He said that refugees will be distributed in municipalities across the country, to avoid any formation of ghettos.
The prime minister admitted that although Estonia has a long experience with Russian-speaking immigrants, integrating asylum seekers from Africa and the Middle East is an “enormous task” for the country, which is why the government stood against the EC initial quota plan. However, Rõivas said that Estonia will work out its own integration plan and expressed confidence that the refugees will learn Estonian, find jobs and pursue careers.
Editor: S. Tambur