Tartu deputy mayor: dealing with quota refugees primarily state’s responsibility ({{commentsTotal}})

Refugees at the refugee camp in Idomeni, Greece, March 2016. Source: (Johannes Tralla/ERR)

Throughout the year, the Ministry of Social Affairs has been dealing with assessing the capabilities of various local governments to accept and rehome refugees. With the arrival of the first refugees in Estonia has also come the understanding that local governments’ capabilities remain insufficient, and thus the refugees’ entire relocation process will remain the Ministry of Social Affairs’ responsibility to bear.

The city of Tartu will not be responsible for resolving concerns relating to the relocation and adaptation of the refugees who arrived in the city earlier this week.

According to Artjom Suvorov, the deputy mayor of Tartu responsible for the city’s healthcare and social affairs, when it comes to issues related to refugees, it will not be a matter of the state coming to the aid of the local government, but rather local governments providing assistance to the state if and when they have the resources to do so, reported ERR’s radio news.

According to Suvorov, this particular arrangement of the matter is due to the fact that, as can be seen in Tartu’s case, local governments do not have adequate capacity to independently handle refugees’ relocation. “There is no vacant housing,” noted the deputy mayor, “And so Tartu would not have the capacity to accept anybody if the entire burden fell on Tartu.”

He also added that the Ministry of Social Affairs has initially pledged to shoulder all refugee-related responsibilities. “That means that they will be responsible for housing, support persons as well as a case manager who will be helping [the refugees] on a daily basis,” explained Suvorov. “The ministry also pledged to resolve any issues involving education and social issues.”

Ideally the system would work thus, that the state accepted refugees, but all subsequent activities would remain within local governments’ sphere of responsibility. Based on the current situation, however, it appears as though the state is attempting to fulfill its pledge to offer protection to war refugees at all costs.

As time goes on, local governments must bear more responsibility

According to Triin Raag, chief of international protection policy at the Ministry of Social Affairs, local governments do still have their own role to play in coordination activities. Raag stated that the Ministry of Social Affairs together with its partners will indeed handle arranging for housing, interpreting services, Estonian language lessons as well as initial medical examinations, however subsequently arising problems are to be dealt with by local governments on their own.

“As initial plans were being made last summer, the pervasive position was that the state would arrange for a place for [incoming refugees] to live, as well as other required services,” Raag explained. “If they required a spot in a kindergarten for their child or anything else falling within the domain of the municipality, then they would turn to their local government. They will also be registering their places of residence with the municipality.”

According to Raag, the state will not be employing “steamroller politics” in the placement of refugees to various local governments; municipalities’ capacity to handle them will also be taken into consideration. She also stated that claims that local governments couldn’t handle the placement of refugees are also untrue, and that the model currently in place is simply the best means for working out a reliable system.

“We cannot rule out that the bulk of the responsibility will increasingly be shifted onto the local government — and that particularly in the initial stage, which involves housing and all of that,” admitted Raag. “It is just that, in order to break in the process and see which solutions work, things are currently arranged thus.”

Editor: Editor: Aili Sarapik

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