Estonian FM wants to reinstate border controls at internal Schengen border
Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) believes border controls should be reinstated at Estonia's internal Schengen borders in order to gain an overview of foreigners temporarily staying in the country. Minister of the Interior Lauri Läänemets (SDE) warned that this would mean weakening Estonia's guard of its eastern border, adding that law enforcement agencies don't see the need for it.
"The Foreign Ministry's unequivocal view is that we need stronger controls and greater clarity," Reinsalu said at Thursday's government press conference.
"We've had more than 100,000 Ukrainian citizens enter Estonian territory, and it's crucial for us to clearly know where people are," he continued. "And check who arrives here and who leaves here. Therefore, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs finds it reasonable to implement controls at our internal Schengen borders without delay."
According to Reinsalu, the ministry deems it necessary for mandatory registration to be implemented for foreigners in Estonia.
According to Läänemets, however, the state has a good overview of people staying in Estonia, and not one law enforcement agency sees the need to close Estonia's Schengen borders.
"This would essentially cost €7.3 million a month," he highlighted. "This would mean sending an additional 150 police officials to the border. This would mean taking police officials away from the eastern border. Someone has to start directing this internally. This would mean weakening the eastern border in terms of [border] guard professionals, and of course the involvement of the Estonian Defense League as well."
Law enforcement agencies are saying that there's "no need to start carefully examining Latvian plates at the expense of internal security," he added. "Several, various other options exist."
Refugees from Ukraine are continuing to arrive in Estonia, and according to the interior minister, Europe must start negotiations regarding the relocation of refugees.
"We obviously have to propose to other European countries and launch negotiations for someone else to accept war refugees as well," Läänemets said. "Should this war last another year, then the number of refugees will grow and grow, and at some point we'll reach limits where we'll run out of spots in our kindergartens, run out of spots in schools, and I'm relying here on robust action from the Foreign Ministry."
According to Reinsalu, half of those entering Estonia have stated that they are using Estonia as a transit state and half have planned on remaining in Estonia, but of the latter, some 20,000 fewer have received legal asylum status.
"In other words, in reality, those 50,000+ [people] who have said they are using Estonia as a transit state too — we don't know whether they're here or have left," he said. "This concerns something in the range of 70,000 people."
According to Läänemets, it's crucial to consider what is being sought to gain from reinstating border controls, and whether such an overview could be gained some other way instead.
Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform), meanwhile, said that Estonia must be prepared for heavy pressure. "Various proposals exist for what we can or can't do," she said. "That we can discuss in the cabinet."
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Editor: Aili Vahtla