Former minister: Nordica needs bigger planes to repatriate people to Iraq

Urmas Reinsalu (center) on Wednesday's 'Otse uudistemajast', together with presenter Indrek Kiisler (left) and Estonian Refugee Council director Eero Janson.
Urmas Reinsalu (center) on Wednesday's 'Otse uudistemajast', together with presenter Indrek Kiisler (left) and Estonian Refugee Council director Eero Janson. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

'Nordica needs to buy bigger and better planes to fly people back to Iraq,' former foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) said Wednesday. Reinsalu was speaking in the context of the recent influx of illegal migrants, many originally from the war-torn Middle-Eastern country, from Belarus, into Lithuania, Latvia and Poland.

Reinsalu made his tongue-in-cheek remark, referring to the state-owned national airline, when he appeared on Wednesday's edition of ERR webcast "Otse uudistemajast" to talk about a phenomenon which has been widely described by Estonia's leadership as a form of hybrid warfare on the part of Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, whose regime, it is claimed, has been ferrying migrants en masse to its western borders.

Reinsalu, who also announced Wednesday he would be running as Tallinn mayor for Isamaa in October's local elections, said Europe as a whole has a duty to defend its borders, while: "There are parts in Iraq that are safe," in respect of those seeking asylum.

"We have the right to keep our door locked," Reinsalu said in response to a question from ERR's Indrek Kiisler on whether fences, dogs and equipment represent the future of Estonia's borders.

Unlike Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, Estonia does not share a border with Belarus, an entirely land-locked nation, and the bulk of its eastern border consists of waterways. However, it shares a lengthy land border with Latvia to the south, and the two countries' borders converge with that of the Russian Federation, in the southeast.

The building up of border fences and infrastructure in the southeast has been ongoing for some years even prior to the recent crisis, which saw over 4,000 people cross the border illegally into Lithuania, between mid-summer and last week.

Lithuania has since started turning people away at its borders, and according to some reports is even providing funds towards plane fares back to the migrants' countries of origin, while Latvia declared a state of emergency in its border provinces yesterday.

Eero Janson, head of the Estonian Refugee Council (Eesti Pagalusabi), also appearing on "Otse uudistemajast", said that background checks on people migrating into Estonia is thorough.

Janson said: "Trained Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) personnel research [migrants'] backgrounds and conduct interviews."

Janson also noted that the Lukashenko regime was using migrants as pawns in its retaliation against Lithuania, the EU and the west as a whole – relations have been sour since the Belarusian leader was reelected to office for a sixth term, exactly one year ago.

Janson said: "It is clear that this is a provocation on the part of Belarus, which is in turn revenge for sanctions against the EU, and for offering political asylum to [Svetlana] Tikhanovskaya." 

Tikhanovskaya has been granted asylum in Vilnius, just 30km from the Belarusian border.

International law also applied in Estonia and the other two Baltic States, regardless of what Minsk was up to, Janson added.

He said: "States have the right to protect their borders, but this must not violate [refugees'] right to protection."

"If they have already entered Lithuanian territory, Lithuania may not expel them collectively, on the basis of the European Convention on Human Rights, without personally examining their circumstances," he went on.

At the same time, the media had now spun the story into one of security, meaning the average migrant, and the average local citizen, had been overlooked.

"These are vulnerable people, those who are crossing the border. There have been whisperings that everything is safe in Iraq," Janson said.

Estonia has already sent PPA personnel and equipment such as tents and barbed wire, to Lithuania, while said it would not host any of the migrants who have crossed into Lithuania unless specifically asked to, by that country.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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