PPA: Estonia could cope with mass immigration, but needs more translators

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The Estonian border. Source: Rene Kundla/ERR

Estonia has enough tents but not enough translators should migration flows from Lithuania redirect to Estonia in the coming months, the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) told ERR on Wednesday.

Lithuania is currently experiencing an unprecedented wave of irregular migration from Belarus where more than 1,200 migrants, mostly from the middle east, have crossed the border and claimed asylum in recent weeks. The country has set up a camp to house the new arrivals and Estonia has sent officers to help with border control.

The PPA has said, if travel restrictions are lifted between Estonia and the Nordic countries, then the migration path could change as migrants try and reach Sweden or Finland.

Head of the border guard department of the PPA Egert Belitšev said Estonia could cope but there would be gaps in its response.

Speaking on Vikerraadio's "Uudis +" radio show, he said many sections of society would be called upon should a similar situation occur and that a camp could be quickly assembled.

"The state has tents in different places in different areas of government. There are tents, for example, in the Defense Forces, the Defense League and the Rescue Board, and it is possible to set them up quickly," he said. During winter, people would be housed in heated public buildings such as schools or gyms. 

There is also a detention center for foreigners in Estonia, which can accommodate approximately 100 people, but in the case of mass immigration, temporary facilities could be used.

Belitšev said there are about 173 reserve officers in Estonia who could process applications for asylum and carry out interviews.

But one of the areas of concern is the lack of interpreters, something which has also been a problem in Lithuania, and can create delays.

As it is difficult to find interpreters, Lithuania has asked for help in this regard. Belitšev said sharing contacts is the best thing Estonia can do. He added that it would not be sensible to hire an interpreter to cover all the needs, as the need for interpreters only increases sharply in the event of mass immigration.

He said creating additional fences on the border will not act as a deterrent because if someone is determined to cross the border they will do so. However, he said that it is important to have border fences and technical surveillance infrastructure to gain an overview of border crossers and to be able to catch people quickly. 

Latvia, which shares a border with Belarus, is also preparing for irregular migration.

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Editor: Helen Wright

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