Helping of refugees in Estonia still in need of better coordination

Ukrainian war refugees arriving in Tallinn in March 2022.
Ukrainian war refugees arriving in Tallinn in March 2022. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

People in Estonia are very eager to help incoming war refugees, and many people have volunteered their help, but all of this needs to be better coordinated, the Police and Border Guard Board's (PPA) Emergency Headquarters said. The goal is for refugees to receive the help they most need at the right time.

Volunteers at the refugee reception center on Niine Street in Põhja-Tallinn are sharing information, listening to and helping arriving refugees pick out clothes.

"Today I gave an older lady the type of slippers that she had been looking for for an hour here," said Kati Kask, a volunteer at the center. "And then you see how someone tears up and thanks you from the bottom of their heart — over a little pair of slippers — and this is more than anyone could ask for for doing this work."

Kask is a business-owner who began volunteering at the reception center last weekend. The volunteers' work space at the Niine Street center resemble a warehouse with shelves filled with just about anything you could think of.

Meanwhile, volunteers are also tasked with sorting through all the incoming donations in the coat check at Salme Cultural Center, just a few blocks away, where they have been stockpiled.

According to Sten Svetljakov, volunteer coordinator at Niine 2, finding volunteers is no problem at all; people want to help.

"People have shown an incredible amount of interest," Svetljakov said. "If we look back, the refugee center was opened a week ago, and our coordinators started a Facebook group that now has more than 3,000 members already."

There are quite a lot of volunteer groups throughout Estonia, said Viktor Saaremets, head of volunteer coordination at the PPA's Emergency Headquarters. In order to coordinate everyone's efforts, two main things need to be determined: how volunteers can contribute, and what kind of help the incoming refugees need first and foremost.

"We have to map out refugees' entire journey from Poland through Estonia and determine now already what is actually needed," Saaremets said. "These people are actually coming here with one plastic bag and absolutely nothing else."

It also needs be taken into account that war refugees will most likely continue to need aid for an extended period of time, he added.

The load currently being borne by the reception center in Tallinn would be significantly reduced if similar centers were established at the Estonian border, Svetljakov said.

According to Jako Salla, head of social protection at the PPA's Emergency Headquarters, a reception center is slated to be opened in Ikla, at the Estonian-Latvian border due south of Pärnu, next week.

"People should be able to exit the border checkpoint at Ikla with temporary protection and a residence permit already issued," Salla said. "Right now, when someone comes to register, they need to go to several institutions before they receive help. We will be establishing all the necessary conditions at Ikla for people getting help much more quickly."


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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