Parliament and Government representatives discuss refugee policy ({{commentsTotal}})

The authorities expect 220 applicants for protection and asylum this year. Up to 550 could be helped to find work, but no coherent plan or policy exists.

Parliament’s State Budget Control Select Committee met yesterday to discuss future refugee policy. Several members of the government attended, including Social Protection Minister Margus Tsahkna and Finance Minister Sven Sester.

The meeting was prompted by the National Audience Office’s report on Estonia’s readiness to take in refugees. The report, published on January 19, identified several problems, most importantly the lack of a coherent and long-term strategy to deal with increasing numbers of applicants for protection and asylum.

The authorities expect 220 people to arrive in Estonia in 2016. To accommodate and integrate them, the government will allocate 24 million euros over the coming years as well as 3,000 euros per person local governments will receive to support the new arrivals.

Mart Vain, the National Audit Office’s Audit Manager, said that Töötukassa (Estonia’s unemployment insurance fund) confirmed that they could integrate 550 people into the Estonian labour market in 2016 if they got the necessary support. This would include a support person for any applicant looking for work, along with a translator.

The meeting also discussed the weaknesses of existing placement and integration programs. These include that they are voluntary and available only in English and Russian, and that for these reasons not every new arrival could participate. Also, it was pointed out that it isn’t at all clear what is supposed to happen next.

Practical problems came up as well, including taking in families, single parents and orphans. Vain pointed out that while confirming refugees’ identity was hard, finding their family members was even harder. If people were granted asylum or protection who would later want to bring their families to Estonia, this would be very difficult under current law.