Refugees in transit via Narva risk not receiving help, say volunteers

Refugees from Ukraine at a border checkpoint.
Refugees from Ukraine at a border checkpoint. Source: ERR

Hundreds of Ukrainian refugees a day are arriving in Estonia from Russia, the vast majority of which are in transit to other countries. Volunteers helping these refugees find that Estonia is only providing a solid reception to asylum-seekers, while refugees in transit are at risk of being left up to their own devices in Narva.

It took two and a half weeks for a family of seven from Mariupol to reach Narva. They were helped along the way by Russian volunteers, who passed the family off to their colleagues in Narva at the border.

"If it weren't for volunteers and other people, I don't even know what would have happened to us," Igor Antonenko said regarding their 2,000-kilometer journey. "We don't have any money or a place to stay; there's nowhere to sleep."

Antonenko's family ultimately wants to reach Finland, but they need to rest before continuing on. Volunteers are seeking to secure accommodations and food for the refugees, however their resources are limited as well.

"Those who want to remain in Estonia, they are being handled and some kind of program exists," said Rene Abramson, sales manager at Narva's Vaba Lava Theater and one of the volunteers helping refugees arriving in Narva. "But those who want to travel on from here, but who arrive here from Russia exhausted and battered? As far as I know, there is no reception for them right now, on either the city or the state's part."

Some 200 refugees from Ukraine arrive at the border checkpoint in Narva each day, just one fifth of whom end up remaining in Estonia.

"Nobody has left the border checkpoint without being provided any assistance," said Urmas Elmi, head of the eastern regional Emergency Headquarters. "We have conducted personal interviews with everyone. We're determining their initial needs, food, accommodations. With those who are in transit, we discuss what their route is, and if they need, we share transport info with them. We've also provided them with food aid at the border as well."

Volunteers, however, find that refugees in Narva are nonetheless often left to their own devices and believe that the state should be providing them with more robust support.

The City of Narva stopped providing aid to refugees in transit as of the beginning of this week.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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