SKA: Estonia has received more than 50,000 refugees from Ukraine

Pro-Ukraine signs attached to a barrier fence outside of the Russian Embassy in Tallinn. Spring 2022.
Pro-Ukraine signs attached to a barrier fence outside of the Russian Embassy in Tallinn. Spring 2022. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

As of August 10, Estonia has received a total of 50,347 war refugees from Ukraine, data published by the Social Insurance Board (SKA) on Thursday indicates. This is equivalent to 3.75 percent of the Estonian population.

Since late February, a total of 86,768 war refugees from Ukraine have entered Estonia. Of these, 36,421, or 42 percent, have traveled onward, according to figures published by SKA (link in Estonian), the Estonian state institution in charge of accepting and providing aid to incoming war refugees.

Of all refugees to enter Estonia, 23,219, or nearly 27 percent, have been minors, and according to the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA), at least 100 have been unaccompanied minors.

According to UN data, since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine began on February 24, Poland has received the most war refugees, nearly 1.3 million of whom have remained in the country. Germany has received another 940,000 and the Czech Republic 409,000 war refugees from Ukraine.

Of Estonia's immediate neighbors, Lithuania has received nearly 62,000, Sweden nearly 44,000, Latvia nearly 36,000 and Finland nearly 30,000 war refugees from Ukraine.

More than 30,000 applied for temporary protection

According to PPA statistics posted Monday (link in Estonian), as of August 7, a total of 32,077 people have applied for temporary protection in Estonia, including 565 new applicants last week.

1,278 people have renounced their temporary protection.

PPA spokesperson Ilmar Kahro explained to ERR News that when a recipient of temporary protection returns to Ukraine for good, they notify the PPA and their temporary protection is terminated.

"In 13 cases, [an individual's] temporary protection has been terminated because they have received temporary protection in another country," he said. "In six instances, temporary protection has been terminated on some other grounds, which can include if someone actually didn't qualify for temporary protection and should apply for international protection instead."

Stuffed toys distributed to refugee children arriving in Estonia via Ikla border checkpoint. March 2022. Source: Olev Kenk/ERR

Between February 24 and August 7, another 863 people have applied in Estonia for international protection, including 674 Ukrainian citizens.

Last week, the PPA received 63 new applications for international protection, including 60 from Ukrainian and three from Russian citizens.

According to Kahro, the vast majority of applications for international protection thus far have been approved, with only a handful of people having withdrawn their applications during processing and just one application being rejected by the PPA.

In accordance with a decision by the Estonian government, Ukrainian citizens and their family members who fled Ukraine on or after February 24 are granted temporary protection, which includes an Estonian residence permit valid for one year, the PPA explains on its homepage.

Those who left Ukraine earlier but cannot return due to the ongoing war may remain in Estonia without a visa, but are also eligible to apply for international protection instead. While processing of the latter can typically can take up to six months, the international protection application procedure has been simplified for Ukrainian citizens and should take approximately one month to complete.

PPA changes reporting style

As of this Monday, the PPA's posted weekly updates only include the number of applicants for temporary or international protection, not the total number of refugees from Ukraine to be received by Estonia.

The figures updated by SKA each morning, however, are nonetheless sourced from the PPA.

"We have decided we aren't going to report [the total] on our own page anymore, as it gets interpreted as the total number of refugees from Ukraine currently in Estonia, but over time, it's increasingly veering away from the reality," PPA spokesperson Ilmar Kahro told ERR News.

When Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in late February, Estonia temporarily reinstated border controls along its southern border, and thus the PPA was able to keep count of all Ukrainian citizens to arrive in Estonia via both Latvia and Russia, Kahro explained. Arrivals were asked at the border whether they intended to remain in Estonia or travel onward, i.e. were in transit.

Initially, this approach provided Estonian authorities with an indication of how many refugees from Ukraine could be in Estonia, but as time went on, the data quality began to suffer. Estonia ended border controls along its border with Latvia in late May, and as Estonia belongs to the Schengen area, Estonian authorities have no way of knowing if a refugee has left via Finland or Latvia, for example, unless they have voluntarily informed the PPA.

Refugees from Ukraine aboard Tallink's MS Isabelle, which is docked in Tallinn's Old City Harbor. April 2022. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

According to the PPA spokesperson, the "big number" also ends up including Ukrainian citizens who aren't war refugees and are instead entering Estonia from Russia to visit loved ones or for tourism, as well as reentry of people who had already been included in the count. Thus, the PPA feels it's more accurate to judge the number of refugees in Estonia based on the number of Ukrainian citizens who have applied for temporary or international protection.

"True, some refugees apparently won't want to apply for protection for one reason or another, and the total number of refugees in Estonia is somewhat higher than the number of people who have received protection, but this method seems to us to be more accurate than counting every single person who crosses the border," Kahro said.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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