Expert finds large-scale immigration to Estonia unlikely (2)

Refugees from the Near East on board a boat near the coast of southern Italy (Reuters/Scanpix)
1/8/2015 12:12 PM
Category: Politics

European Commissioner Johannes Hahn recently warned that the Baltics could see a stream of refugees from Africa and the Middle East. Amid related coverage, ERR's newly launched science website, ERR Novaator, asked international relations lecturer at Tallinn University, Catlyn Kirna, about the likelihood of a large-scale migration to Estonia.

Could the refugees from the Middle East come to Estonia?

I cannot say for sure that none will come, but it is pretty certain that there will be no large-scale immigration.

Why is that? Is it really for the cold climate and small benefits?

These are indeed good enough reasons on their own. However, we have to first look at what kind of immigrants we are talking about. At some point the EU might ask us to accommodate some refugees, but only if the situation in the Middle East gets bad, really bad.

On the other hand, in a situation where the migrants are making their way over here on their own, the road is, first of all, long, and they are not taking a plane. Secondly, there are better places on the road where they can settle. So yes, climate and social benefits indeed play a role.

But so does culture. Just look at the state of panic the British were in a year ago about the Bulgarians and Romanians, thinking they will cross the border en masse and the country will immediately fall in ruins. Yet, almost none came and the numbers remained very small, the reason being that the Romanians and Bulgarians went to countries that are culturally closer to them.

The same applies to people who come from the Middle East or northern Africa, or rather traveling through northern African countries. They go to countries where they are more comfortable and where there are already diaspora communities waiting for them. There isn't a strong Middle Eastern community in Estonia. There is a notable Islamic community, but these are mostly Muslims from Azerbaijan.

The Eurostat graph below shows how the number of asylum seekers has changed over the past five years. Press the play button in the bottom to start the animation.

There has been a lot of talk about immigration from the Middle East and much less about the potential refugees from Russia and Ukraine. How likely is it that refugees from these countries will come to Estonia?

What will happen to Russia is an entirely different question. It is possible that at some point in time the borders will be shut completely. Whereas the EU accepts refugees from the Middle East, it won't do the same for Russia.

What could happen in Russia is that they just need to get certain people out of the country. So there is no reason to fear that the EU will welcome a large number of immigrants - no European country wants to accept immigrants from outside of the EU anyway.

Of course, Estonia, with a couple of other countries, are much more home-like to Russians than the rest, but how it all will look depends on what goes down. Having relations with local Estonian or Russian families could indeed make a difference. But we do have to take into account the fact that leaving Russia is nowhere as easy as leaving the Near East.

Ukraine is a more likely source. Yet, there are countries like Poland on the way, with which Ukrainians have closer cultural and familial ties. Although there is a significant Ukrainian community in Estonia, the total number of immigrants is too small to influence the country. However, Estonia could be used as a launchpad for entering other EU states.

The local businesses have also taken a very favorable approach to Ukrainian workers and this may prove useful at some point.

People also talk about financial pressure that comes with immigration. How much does giving humanitarian aid burden Estonia?

The numbers we are talking about are so small that there is no great pressure. The state budget covers things it has always covered.

The thing with immigration is that people are very afraid of it. There has been talk in Estonia about the anti-immigration demonstrations in western Europe, but it is never mentioned that it is also the immigrants from Estonia itself that these people are protesting against. In reality, it is not so much the non-EU immigration that poses the problem for most European countries, but the internal migrations that stems from within the union itself.

M. Himma, M. Oll

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