PPA: Migrant crisis reaching Estonia's borders unlikely

PPA border guards patrolling Estonia's border.
PPA border guards patrolling Estonia's border. Source: Leevi Lillemäe/ERR

The likelihood of the current migrant crisis on Belarus' borders with Poland and Lithuania reaching Estonia is small, the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) says, ETV news show 'Aktuaalne kaamera' (AK) reported Friday, though contingency plans are being put in place, ahead of any scenario where a surge in migrant numbers does take place.

PPA chief Elmar Vaher told AK that decision are made: "Based on what we know today and also based on our partners' and intelligence services's analysis. As soon as there is any indication that the threat has changed, we will commence with operations and try to be as prepared as possible."

Since Estonia does not border with Belarus, no direct migration pressure can follow that route, but a recent article on the website of German daily Die Welt claimed that the airport at Pskov, around 30 km from Estonia's southeastern border, could be opened up as an alternative route, with direct flights arriving from Iraq in much the same way as direct flights have been arriving in Minsk, Belarus' capital, from some middle- and near-eastern countries.

Die Welt's claims arose from leaked information from inside the EU, BNS reported Friday.

However, Vaher told AK he did not think that this scenario would arise.

Egert Belitchev, the PPA's deputy director general responsible for border guarding, said that Belitchev said that if an individual applies for international protection, meaning that individual's life or well-being is at risk in their country of origin, it will be processed.

Those not meeting such criteria would be returned, he went on.

Belitchev said: "Should anyone really manage to enter Estonia when he or she has no grounds for international protection, our goal is to send these people back, either to their country of origin, or to the same country whence they arrived in Estonia, as soon as possible."

Noone is automatically entitled to international protection simply because they are a foreign citizen, he added, while those seeming to be legitimate asylum claimants will see expedited procedures.

"If there is a threat to national security, it must also be taken into account in the context of international protection proceedings," Belitchev said

The PPA is not likely to be able to carry out large-scale activities of this nature on their own, however, AK reported, while deploying the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) and/or the volunteer Defense League (Kaitseliit) requires governmental authority.

Defense League commander Brig. Gen. Riho Ühtegi said his organization was ready to assist border guards with its personnel if needed.

Ühtegi said: "We are talking here about those Defense League members who have received the necessary military training, including patrolling, observation and other required skills. We are not talking about very specific areas, but rather a vitality that is most needed."

"When we talk about border barrier installation, then this really involves a lot of human labor," he went on.

The rapidity with which the Defense League could be involved would also depend on the situation he said – for instance, in the case of searching for an individual who has disappeared in heavily forested areas, volunteers have been recruited within hours in similar cases.

Estonia's border with Russia is over 330km in length, though much of it runs through the freshwater Peipsi järv and its adjacent lakes to the south, with the Narva river to the north forming the border as far as the Baltic Sea. Only the southeastern border is entirely a land frontier; Estonia's land border with Russia totals 135km.

Egert Belitchev also told AK that in the case of Belarus, the fact that many migrants had not applied for international protection from that country gave the lie to their being genuine asylum seekers. Such individuals have been granted Belarusian visas, he said.

If there is a large surge in numbers of people wanting to cross the border into Estonia illegally, some will inevitably get through, Belitchev added.

In that case, it would be in the interests of the Estonian state to detain them as soon as possible, while making arrangements for them to leave the country, he said.

A handful of cases of individuals entering Estonia illegally, from Latvia, which borders with Belarus, have been reported. In such cases, the individuals have been making their way north to Tallinn and then, by ferry, to Finland, and had been apprehended either in Tallinn, including in or near the ferry terminal, or shortly after crossing the border from Latvia.

Defense minister: Razor wire to be installed on land border

Defense minister Kalle Laanet (Reform) had said earlier Friday that 130km of razor wire is to be installed on the Estonian southeastern border.

Laanet said: "Belarus continues to deliberately escalate its hybrid attack on the Polish-Lithuanian border, so we will take the necessary measures to protect Estonia's state border," adding that Estonia is in daily contact with its allies in order to coordinate activities should the situation escalate.

An added complication is ratification of the Estonian-Russian border agreement, which is still not concluded and which Russia says it wants to move forward with. An agreement struck in 2014 should be the basis for ratification, Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov says, rather than references made to the 1920 Treaty of Tartu, the main agreement between the newly-independent Estonia and the fledgling Soviet Russian state. That border lay somewhat to the east of the current border, particularly in the southeast.

The number of people crossing Belarus' borders with the EU states of Latvia, Lithuania and Poland started to rise significantly in mid-summer, a development quickly denounced by Estonia's leadership as a form of hybrid warfare on the part of the Alexander Lukashenko regime. Lukashenko had been returned for a sixth term as president the previous summer, in elections widely condemned as having been rigged and followed by a crackdown on dissenters by state security forces. Lukashenko issued threats of flooding Europe with migrants, and also illicit drugs, in retaliation for sanctions placed on Belarus by the EU.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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