Still no long-term plan in place for hosting Ukraine war refugees

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The refugee reception center in Tallinn.
The refugee reception center in Tallinn. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Estonia still lacks a long-term plan for the hosting of refugees fleeing the conflict in Ukraine, ETV news show 'Aktuaalne kaamera' (AK) reported Friday.

Many of the estimated 14,000-plus people already to have made their way to Estonia are being put up in hotels, though this is a temporary solution likely to last no longer than a month.

Social protection minister Signe Riisalo (Reform) told AK that: "The Estonian state's capacity [for hosting refugees] is precisely as many as the number of people who come here."

"The question is, what we can offer these people, when there are large numbers of them," Riisalo went on.

The situation is changing daily, AK reported, though one constant so far is the lack of long-range plans.

The Social Insurance Board (SKA) is, however, planning to open a new, larger reception center in Tallinn in the coming days, to replace the current one in the Kalamaja district of the capital, which has rapidly become inundated. The new center is being opened in conjunction with Tallinn city government.

The board's head, Jako Salla, told AK that the new center: "Must have larger facilities where people can rest if necessary, or spend the night if their next destination is further away, and eat, play with the children etc."

The 10,000 limit Riisalo announced at the start of the week, itself five times higher than the pre-war estimate of 2,000, has already been exceeded.

Most of those arriving have coped by themselves, Salla added, particularly if they have family or friends in Estonia already.

Salla said: "Most people do not arrive at hotels or public accommodation. They go to their loved ones," putting the figure of those who apply for state and local government help at around a quarter of the total.

The current Tallinn center on Niine 2, housed in the city government's former North Tallinn district premises, has already been oversubscribed, with many people having to wait in-line outside.

Salla added that it can be assumed that the need for state support for those fleeing Russia's invasion of Ukraine can only continue to rise, the more so the longer the war drags on.

This would also mean more arrivals who had no previous connection with Estonia and so who would require state and local government support.

Signe Riisalo put the ultimate figure as high as 100,000.

She said: "By the current calculations, the hardest scenario involves 100,000 people. We need to realize that not everything in our society will be the same. About the economic effects alone we are talking about gas and the potential price of gas. This will all affect us and our people's livelihoods."

The SKA's procurement round of private sector hotels in Estonia concluded on Friday. This is seen only as a temporary measure, with the maximum period of stay one month and the general expectation that arrivals will have found more established accommodation and lifestyle overall, within days.

Figures reported for the number of arrivals in Latvia and Lithuania of people fleeing the Ukraine conflict are considerably lower than Estonia's, with the English-language public broadcasters of those countries putting the figure at 4,300 (LSM, Latvia, as of Thursday) and around 5,000 (Lithuanian broadcaster LRT as of Friday) respectively.

Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) chief Elmar Vaher said on Friday that around 2,000 people fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine were arriving in Estonia on a daily basis.

Salla: Need for help very wide-ranging

Appearing on Vikerraadio Saturday morning, Salla said that arrivals were being accommodated on the basis of their needs, which ranged quite widely.

He said: "We have all seen the videos of the Niine reception area [in Tallinn]. There are those people who have only a single plastic bag in their hands. The need for help is very diverse: We need clothes, food, and other essentials."

The SKA had been waiting for offers of accommodation on Friday, with even sports halls and dormitories in the picture.

"People are grateful for every opportunity," he said.

The South Estonian region has been covered in the latest procurement round, a process which had already taken place in western Estonia, where Haapsalu and Kuressaare were the main destinations, Salla added.

The SKA's procurement terms were fairly general: Three meals per day and a bed, he added.

While arrivals are not able to pick and choose where they stay, if they have pets, for instance, this needs to be taken into account and the applicants housed by those businesses or owners who agree to it.

The likelihood of gyms needing to be used for accommodation will rise as the weeks go on, Salla added, and Tallink-owned ferries, for instance, were also being considered.

This article was updated to include Jako Salla's comments made to Vikerraadio Saturday morning.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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