Russia has loaded more than a thousand people waiting to cross the border into Southeastern Estonia, primarily refugees from Ukraine, into trucks and taken them away somewhere, Minister of the Interior Lauri Läänemets (SDE) said Wednesday. The Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) is trying to find out more about the refugees' fate.
"There had been just over a thousand people waiting at the border; now they're not there anymore — they were loaded onto trucks and taken away," Läänemets said in appearance on Vikerraadio's "Uudis+" on Wednesday. "We don't know where they were taken. The PPA is currently working on acquiring this info."
According to the minister, the PPA has employed drones to help detect whether Russian authorities are redirecting these refugees to some undeveloped border area, as Belarus did along the Latvian and Lithuanian border last year.
"A thousand people is a lot already, but we're prepared," Läänemets confirmed. adding that the PPA has even recently rehearsed such situations with the volunteer Estonian Defense League.
More than a thousand people, mainly Ukrainians, had accumulated on the Russian side of Estonia's southeastern border in recent days, whose crossing into Estonia had been delayed by Russian authorities dragging out the processing of border procedures. People ended up waiting in line for several days to cross through the Kunichina Gora/Luhamaa checkpoint.
The interior minister acknowledged that while Estonia could speculate on the reason behind the delays and resulting crowd, they could not be certain of the actual objective.
"I suppose the order to do all of this has come from above," he remarked.
People seeking asylum nonetheless to be directed to border checkpoint
Läänemets stressed that illegal border crossings must be prevented, noting that relevant legislative amendments were recently passed into law as well in preparation for this.
"This means that an actual physical barrier will be placed there, that people will block the way, i.e. that these people physically will not be let through," he said. "And if there is anyone there who wants to apply for asylum, then it's possible to either say go to the border checkpoint or establish some sort of temporary checkpoint there for conducting procedures."
The Estonian minister said that should Russia direct people to cross the border illegally en masse, the state cannot presume that all of them are refugees from Ukraine.
"All kinds of other people as well as citizens of the Russian Federation and all kinds of agents and other people will certainly be stuck into that crowd," he warned.
Läänemets said that Estonia has established communications with the Ukrainian Embassy in order to check arriving people's backgrounds, including whether they are who they say they are, especially as Estonia is currently allowing people in on the basis of copies of their Ukrainian passports.
As Russia has the capacity for all kinds of forgeries, however, there are people at the border who are speaking with arrivals and trying to detect those who are lying about their background and motives, he added.
Editor: Aili Vahtla