While numbers of people attempting to enter Estonia illegally, with a view to using the Port of Tallinn as a springboard to cross overseas to Finland and other northern European states, remains small, measures are still being considered ahead of any potential surge in numbers. At the same time, due to human resources issues, the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) is having to work more efficiently.
Vaiko Vaher, leading law enforcement at the PPA's border department, told ERR that: The events of the last few days have shown that a large number of people on illegal migration have already been caught in Germany," said
"Those numbers are currently at 700-1000 people just last weekend," he went on.
While the situation on the border between Belarus and its EU neighbor Latvia is not as tense as some weeks ago, vigilance is still in place on Estonia's border with its southern neighbor.
Vaher said that: "I do not know for certain whether the fact that the Latvian border is being maintained better is the result of the Latvians' own efforts, or rather of a Belarusian desire to put pressure on Poland today, instead of on Latvia and Lithuania."
Human resource pressures to spell easing of border checks volume at Tallinn port
Outbound checks at the northern, maritime border with Finland may soon be relaxed, ERR reports. The combination of the pandemic and its travel restrictions, along with the specter of potential illegal migration, had caused the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) human resource problems, Vaher, said.
He said: "Whereas in many firms, the main resource is perhaps a wage or container or tank, our main resource is still our, people, and we still have to patrol using our personnel very wisely. Since additional immigration patrols are all on overtime at the moment, our people will inevitably get fatigued."
Vaher added that while patrols and inspections remain with the PPA, these will be targeted more on "hot hours" and based on patterns already observed.
This will affect the port of Tallinn and the northern border, more than Estonia's border with Latvia, he added. "Ordinary people may not notice the change so much on the southern border; it is more of an internal development. But most likely, at the Port of Tallinn at least, the border crossing should be faster."
That said, things could change unexpectedly, he added.
"As of now, no one can guarantee that migration will not turn northwards in a moment. That could happen," he went on.
One individual detected attempting to cross northern, maritime border illegally
PPA patrols still inspected 85 percent of arrivals at the Port of Tallinn last month, Vaher said, with vehicles the main focus.
He said: "A PPA official stops a vehicle, communicates with the driver, asks them for their documents. If there is a suspicious vehicle or a PPA official suspects that there may be people in the vehicle who have no reason to be in our country, in addition to checking documents, they are usually asked to open the trunk, for instance," adding that inspections can continue under bags, spare wheels etc.
It was in precisely this manner that an individual was apprehended after hiding in the trunk of a car.
No further such infringements have been found in port, ERR reports, in the light of a recent article in the Finnish media, which said that people had been entering the country illegally, and via Estonia.
Cooperation with Finnish authorities was good, he added, including informing them ahead of arrival by sea of any suspicious vehicles.
While those trying to evade the authorities were often particularly smart, the latter had grown in experience and know-how as well. "When this crisis was just beginning, we were actually in a slight panic, as there was very little information, we didn't know who we were looking for, how people were moving, what they were moving from or where they were moving to ," he said.
"However, as of now, we've clarified things and we can utilize our resources well enough."
Only illegal immigration case on Estonia-Latvia border so far
On the southern border – with Latvia, a country which in turn borders with Belarus – larger vehicles such as buses and trucks, as well as those with non-Estonian license plates, were in particular focus, Meelis Saarepuu, head of the PPA's Southern Prefecture.
No truck or van had as yet had to be completely emptied of its cargo in the course of inspections, so far, he said.
One person has been apprehended to date crossing the southern land border illegally, in Pärnu County, after presenting falsified documentation to a PPA official conducting checks on-board a bus.
Estonia was nonetheless seen as a transit country by people wishing to enter illegally, Saarepuu went on.
He said: "The threat assessment reveals a desire to move further away from Latvia and Lithuania, towards Central Europe, by land," adding that given both Estonia and Finland are in the Schengen Area of free movement, the Gulf of Finland presented no barrier in that sense either.
Media reports Thursday said the Finnish Coast Guard had launched seven criminal investigations after migrants who crossed the Belarusian border were found in Finland. Some had arrived on ferries from Estonia.
EU-wide, 168,844 people and 87,539 vehicles have been checked at internal borders since mid-August.
The forced, migratory pressure on Belarus' borders with the EU has been widely condemned in the west as both a form of hybrid warfare and as an abuse of the human rights of vulnerable individuals.
Editor: Andrew Whyte