South Estonian farmers have expressed their dissatisfaction with a Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) deportation of nine Ukrainian agricultural workers. The individuals had violated quarantine on arrival in Estonia in late July, the PPA says.
The Ukrainians arrived in Estonia on a specially laid-on flight in July and had tested negative for COVID-19.
The Health Board (Terviseamet) claims that the workers had violated quarantine by working; the farmers say they were in fact putting their living quarters in order when they were raided by the PPA.
"We have fulfilled the orders issued by the state and our seasonal workforce is virus-free," said one farmer, Tiit Niilo, manager of the Nopri farm in.
"However, now workers have been given orders to leave the countr,y because during a police raid at the end of last month they were not lying on their beds at the location of quarantine, but were putting in order the spaces meant to be their dwelling," he continued.
160 seasonal workers from Ukraine arrived in Estonia on the afternoon of July 21 aboard a flight chartered by the Chamber of Agriculture and Commerce (EPKK).
The workers were tested for COVID-19 at the airport upon arrival and were tested again after their two-week quarantine period was up.
The PPA now says they must leave the country.
Niilo added that the restrictions did not require the workers to be sitting idle at home, but that work on the place of stay they were quarantined at was not a violation.
Another farmer, Andres Agan, manager of Plantex AS, called the situation as absurd, all the more so given the deportation order was to be fulfilled within seven days, whereas an order to leave can be contested within a 30-day period, he said.
The situation is further exacerbated by the lack of direct air links between Estonia and Ukraine at present.
Priit Ojamaa, owner of OÜ Hobulased, said that: "We have incurred costs in connection with bringing these people to our country, testing them for the virus and keeping them in quarantine without work, and we have reckoned on the basis that the workers would stay in our country for the established time after that, and work."
The workers in question, by virtue of the fact they had come to Estonia on a specially chartered plane, are in fact among the few who the state have such a clear picture of the health and whereabouts of, Ojamaa said.
A labor shortage earlier in the summer as harvest season approached was frustrated further by coronavirus travel restrictions and amendments to the Aliens Act, the principal law dealing with immigration.
Large numbers of seasonal workers from Ukraine work in the agricultural sector, as well as construction.
Ukraine's current reported COVID-19 rate is above the 25 per 100,000 inhabitants limit the economic affairs ministry has set beyond which direct flights must be halted.
Budget Hungarian carrier Wizzair had a direct link between Tallinn and three major Ukrainian cities up and running in late July, but it had to stop after a day in operation as Ukraine's reported coronavirus rate exceeded the limit.
Editor: Andrew Whyte