Government calls for coordinated refugee effort involving NGOs

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

The government has called for greater centralization and coordination of the processing and accommodation of people fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine, involving established aid organizations, and away from active volunteering from private citizens.

The move follows concerns over the exploitation of vulnerable and traumatized people arriving at the EU border.

While the government's initial fixture of 10,000 Ukrainian refugees as a maximum capacity has been exceeded by more than two-fold, a new figure has not been set, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Thursday.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) said: "We can set all kinds of limits, but could you imagine a situation where the 101st refugee arrives at the border and we turn them back? It would be very difficult to conceive of this, humanly speaking."

At the same time, the government and the state want to rein in the numbers of people fleeing the Ukraine war being brought in to Estonia at private citizens' initiative.

A recent survey by pollsters Kantar Emor suggested the vast majority of people in Estonia support the admission of refugees fleeing Russia's invasion of Ukraine – as many as 93 percent among native Estonian speakers; 60 percent among people of "other nationalities" and 82 percent for the country as a whole, AK reported.

Kantar Emor found a much greater disparity of opinion between ethnic Estonians and those of other nationalities – which means primarily native Russian speakers – when it came to support for arming Ukraine in its fight.

While 92 percent of Estonian respondents were in favor of the policy, only 29 percent of non-Estonians agreed, AK said.

Both the interior ministry and the Rescue Board (Päästeamet) have called for the coordination here.

Interior minister Kristian Jaani (Center) told AK that: "As of today, the Rescue Board, which is a national partner of Pagulasabi, has taken over and, again, the key word is coordination. The Rescue Board is in charge of this coordination, particularly relating to transport."

"In fact, it is not good to use private initiatives here, as such initiatives can mean that those people who really need help end up being deprived of it," he continued.

Head of the Estonian Refugee Council (Pagulasabi) Anu Viltrop told AK that the organization's work will continue, and that those with family caught up in the conflict can still travel to the EU-Ukraine border, while others should stay away.

"The non-profit Estonian Refugee Council can continue its work in the same way, while at the same time still perfectly acceptable to go to the border to ones close family members," she said.

"While the majority of people are good and have good intentions, spontaneous activity of this kind may increase the risk of vulnerable people being approached at the border by the less well-intentioned," Viltrop went on.

The Estonian Refugee Council says it brings on average nine busloads of displaced persons, both from the Medyka border crossing and from Warsaw, and will continue to work.

The government also decided on Tuesday to begin consultation with other European countries on the redistribution of refugees.

Estonia had admitted an estimated 24,000 people fleeing the Ukraine conflict as of Thursday, with around a third of these thought to be children.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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