Police chief: I'm not ruling out use of gyms for refugee accommodation

PPA Director General Elmar Vaher.
PPA Director General Elmar Vaher. Source: ERR

The crisis headquarters does not yet have a plan for putting up Ukrainian refugees if their number should reach 30,000, while the need to look to gyms and community centers might soon be created, Director General of the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) Elmar Vaher said on the "Esimene studio" evening talk show on Sunday.

Around 18,500 Ukrainian refugees have reached Estonia since the start of the war. Some 13,500 have remained in the country. Roughly 10,000 people have found shelter with next of kin or acquaintances, with 3,200 people provided with state housing, Vaher said.

Of the 3,200 people in state care, half are adult women, 10-15 percent adult men and the rest children. As of Sunday evening, Estonia could still put up 2,000 people. The Estonian National Social Insurance Board is working on a tender to boost that figure, the police chief said.

"If things continue as they have, looking at statistics from Poland and what is happening on our own border, we need to be prepared for greater figures still. Therefore, I am not ruling out the use of gyms, assembly rooms and other larger rooms, with hotel services no longer viable," he remarked.

Vaher said that Estonia will have to put to use its emergency stores. "The state has included such places – sports facilities, community centers, where warmth, light and basic hygiene can be ensured – in its plans. But the beds will have to be lined up in rows, and what we are talking about will resemble living in a camp," he said.

The PPA chief said that nothing currently suggests the situation in Ukraine will change, which means continued immigration. The crisis will not be over in a month.

"I do not believe we will see improvement in the coming weeks. The people who have arrived in Estonia will stay for some time. We have plans for a month, while we understand this war will not be over in that time. Secondly, many have nowhere to return to, their homes destroyed by bombs. Stress levels are high and many will find it emotionally difficult to return to Ukraine."

Despite immigration crisis drills and corresponding plans, no one could have foreseen the situation today, Vaher offered.

"Forecasts are being drawn up, and I cannot say what will happen once Estonia has seen 30,000 or 60,000 Ukrainian refugees. The plan in terms of where to get funding and how to take care of people will be put together in the coming days. It is important to help people find jobs and kindergarten places," he added.

100,000 refugees a realistic outlook

Vaher said that the estimate of 100,000 Ukrainian refugees arriving in Estonia needs to be taken seriously.

"The figures are based on clear statistics that we can see manifesting every day. We will reach those numbers quickly if we continue to see 1,300-1,500 people a day. It is clear that the war will not be over tomorrow or the day after. It will be important to see what Latvia, Lithuania and Poland will do, and how the European Union plans to solve this humanitarian crisis. Any decision in terms of how many refugees Estonia will accept can only be made by the government," the PPA director said.

Most refugees have been put up in Tallinn, while this cannot go on forever. Vaher said that local governments are in the process of determining how many refugees they can accommodate.

"It is clear that people who are put up in good conditions in the capital share that information with others. Our goal is to start sending people to places where we have the capacity to house them in border-crossing points. Every county has such capacity and more needs to be created, which is what local governments are doing," Vaher said.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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