Estonia has received 27,000 Ukrainian war refugees so far, with the state scrambling to find everyone long-term accommodation inside a month. Tallink ferry MS Isabelle is used as a temporary site, Minister of Social Protection Signe Riisalo said on the "Esimene stuudio" talk show.
Riisalo said that the number of refugees coming to Estonia has stabilized at around 500 per day but added that it is difficult to predict what will happen down the line.
The minister said that many refugees do not know for how long they plan to stay. Many want to return to Ukraine first chance and some families with children already have, despite the situation remaining complicated there.
Riisalo revealed that Estonia had crisis plans for accommodating 10,000 refugees before the war, and no one expected to see a lot more and in such a short time.
"But no refugee has been left without lodging. The state has put up 7,000 refugees in hotels and at other sites, including those created by local governments," she said.
The social protection minister admitted that while the state has done well overall, there have been some bottlenecks. Firstly, it was necessary to grant refugees asylum based on a European Union directive passed two weeks after the war started.
"While we have now solved that, another bottleneck is looming as the Social Insurance Board will have to process everyone's child benefits, parental benefits, pensions, as well as disability support and benefits," Riisalo pointed out.
Estonia signed a contract with Baltic Sea shipper Tallink for putting up refugees on its MS Isabelle ferry. The initial agreement covers four months. Riisalo said this does not mean all Estonian hotels are full of refugees. The state simply needed to find a less expensive temporary accommodation option.
"We negotiated a price that we can afford on the one hand and that makes for a comfortable and sensible solution for refugees on the other," she said.
The minister added that a ferry is not a sustainable solution in the long term for families with children and that Estonia will try to find long-term lodging for all refugees inside a month.
"In a situation where the state pays for accommodation, we reserve the right to move people from one site to another. It is all devilishly complicated. Especially because long-term accommodation is not easy to find."
Riisalo said that of refugees to have reached Estonia, around 6,000 have not signaled needing temporary protection. Roughly 1,200 refugees have turned to the Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund in search of work.
Editor: Marcus Turovski