This Friday, May 13, the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) is drawing the implementation of the mass immigration emergency response plan to a close, following which the Social Insurance Board (SKA) will take back over the leading role in accepting and providing aid to incoming war refugees in Estonia.
Since the day the full-scale invasion of Ukraine began, Estonia's goal has been helping war refugees from Ukraine in the best possible way, PPA Director General Elmar Vaher, head of the Joint Command Center for Emergency Management, said according to a press release.
"For the first time, we found ourselves in a situation where thousands of refugees were arriving in the country on a daily basis," Vaher said, adding that the decision to resolve the crisis under single management was the right one.
"By now, the number of refugees entering the country has fallen significantly, and services related to accepting people are operational," he continued. "The crisis is not actually over, and now the state's efforts need to be focused on providing refugees with long-term housing and integrating them into Estonian society. SKA's domain has a more significant role in these tasks, which is why the PPA is terminating the emergency response plan for mass immigration and handing the lead role over to SKA."
All agencies who have thus far been working together to accept incoming war refugees from Ukraine will continue their cooperation on this front as well, the PPA chief stressed.
When the Joint Command Center for Emergency Management was established under the PPA in early March, nearly 13,000 war refugees per week were arriving in Estonia. Over the past two weeks, however, that number has dropped to 3,500-3,700, more than half of whom are in transit to other EU countries.
The PPA has been thoroughly preparing for a smooth handover of the lead role in Estonia's response to SKA, Vaher said, adding that he was sure that the helping of the people of Ukraine would be in good hands.
"Going forward, the PPA's role will be to help war refugees at the border and to process applications for temporary protection at PPA service offices," he said. "The Ministry of the Interior will continue to coordinate refugee-related crisis management on the strategic level."
Info desks in Tallinn, Tartu, Pärnu, Narva
Compared with the emergency situation, the biggest practical changes this handover will entail will be in connection with the refugee reception centers currently operating in Tartu and Pärnu, which will be replaced with SKA-operated information desks at Tallinn Bus Station, at the sites of the current reception centers in Tartu and Pärnu, and in Narva. These info desks will distribute initial important information regarding both remaining in and traveling on from Estonia.
Info desk personnel can also help provide short-term housing to those arriving war refugees who need emergency aid, including refugees in transit via Estonia.
Going forward, the PPA will process temporary protection applications by dedicated staff at its service offices as part of its regular operations. Should a refugee who has received or applied for temporary protection require temporary accommodations, they will be provided with short-term housing at SKA accommodations.
Following the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, which triggered a significant wave of war refugees to begin arriving in Estonia shortly thereafter, the PPA on March 11 implemented the emergency response plan for mass immigration and established the Joint Command Center for Emergency Management.
The Joint Command included representatives from the PPA, SKA, the Rescue Board, the IT and Development Center of the Ministry of the Interior (SMIT), the Estonian Defense League (KL), the Estonian Tax and Customs Board (MTA), the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Health Board, among others.
As of Wednesday, May 11, Estonia has received a total of 37,202 war refugees from Ukraine since February 27, according to daily figures published by the PPA (link in Estonian).
This total does not reflect refugees considered to be in transit through Estonia.
Editor: Aili Vahtla