Isamaa chairman: We need to start EU refugee resettlement negotiations

Isamaa chairman Helir-Valdor Seeder.
Isamaa chairman Helir-Valdor Seeder. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The unorganized transit of Ukrainian refugees to Estonia from the Polish border should be stopped, chairmen of opposition parties Isamaa and EKRE said on Thursday. Relocation negotiations with the EU should also begin, Isamaa believes.

Speaking after a meeting of party chairmen he described as "sorely needed," Helir-Valdor Seeder (Isamaa) said: "We were able to talk completely freely about what chairmen of the different parties thought. Of course, no decisions were made there, this circle of people is neither the government nor a substitute for the Riigikogu as a whole."

The Isamaa chairman said leaders agreed that bringing refugees to Estonia without central organization needs to be stopped.

"It must be coordinated, organized and well thought through. When we bring refugees to Estonia, we also have a responsibility for what happens to them and how we solve their problems — from health insurance, accommodation, training children, possible employment and everything else," he said.

Seeder said the arrival of refugees must be organized by the state together with various organizations, such as NGOs.

Where the refugees go and how states continue to care for new arrivals also needs to be planned.

"This will certainly include the fact that the Estonian government will start negotiations on the relocation of refugees with other European Union countries. This can only be a voluntary agreement between the countries, but here the Estonian state must show initiative," Seeder said.

Estonia should also turn to the EU for additional funds to help finance the integration of refugees from the common budget, he said.

Seeder said some of the refugees have been staying in hotels in Estonia for almost a month, but no further decisions have been made.

"We know that a large proportion of people, even more than half, are staying with families - relatives, acquaintances, employers - and from there, most likely, they will later discover that they are unable to feed, cover, and bear the costs of accommodation, and this burden will fall on the local government and the state," he said.

Seeder said it is planned to disperse refugees fairly across the country and temporarily housing people in schools or gyms must be discussed.

The most difficult topic, where all parties disagree, is when and how children should enter the Estonian education system, in what language and whether a Ukrainian school should be founded.

Helme: Refugee transit must be stopped immediately

Two anti-coronavirus restrictions and vaccination protests took place on Toompea on February 3, 2022. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

EKRE chairman Martin Helme took a harder line than Seeder. He said Estonia has started to import people en masse from the Polish border.

"That we ourselves have motivated various NGOs to create an assembly line from Poland to Estonia has undoubtedly been a very big mistake and should be stopped immediately," he said.

Helme said the refugees arriving will be treated as cheap labor: "The wish to fill the Estonian labor market with cheap labor is undoubtedly part of what has gone wrong."

He said the state should no longer organize the transit of Ukrainian war refugees to Estonia as the recommended number of 10,000 people has already been reached.

"It should be clearly communicated today that we are full, we can't take any more," the chairman said. "We already have two and a half times that."

Helme said it is time for countries that have received proportionally fewer refugees to help out and accept more. "We have set an example for everyone with military assistance and humanitarian aid and with accepting refugees. We can no longer handle it," he said.

Helme said the refugees will place an additional burden on the state's budget and this will total €1 billion. No additional information was provided for how this figure was calculated.

The chairman said a signal must be sent that this is only a temporary arrangement and not a new permanent home for the refugees. They can seek shelter here but should return home as soon as possible.

"As much as possible, we can also give these people information that Finland, Sweden and Germany are accepting people. We are not sending anyone away, but there are also other possibilities. This is fair to them and to the Estonian people," said Helme.

Ukrainian refugees in Estonia

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

So far, almost 24,000 refugees from Ukraine have arrived in Estonia approximately 6,000 of whom are passing through.

Of the remaining 16,000, approximately 40 percent are minors below the age of 18 who will be found school or kindergarten places in due course.

Between 1,000 and 2,000 are arriving in the country every day. Estonia counts all Ukrainians arriving into the country at its borders.

As Estonia has a population of more 1.3 million, the refugees already number more than 1 percent of the total population.

More than 3 million Ukrainians have fled since Russia launched a full-scale war in Ukraine on February 24.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) has also said the state's focus needs to be directed towards the Ukrainians who have already arrived, rather than on bringing new people to the country.

The government initially said it could take up to 2,000 refugees, a figure which was later revised to 10,000. This number would not affect the lives of people already living in Estonia, it said.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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