Hoped-for EU funding for Ukraine refugees in Estonia yet to materialize

Ukrainian war refugees arriving in Tallinn in March 2022.
Ukrainian war refugees arriving in Tallinn in March 2022. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Hope for increased European Union support funding to Estonia in coping with growing numbers of people fleeing the war in Ukraine is scant, ERR's radio news reports, with around €10 million currently mentioned in the context of over 60,000 people currently in-country who had fled the war.

That works out at around €250 per person, while overall Estonia will receive around a 24th of the recommended sum by the EU's own reckoning.

The distribution of the close to 8 million refugees across Europe, a little under 5 million of whom have claimed protection in a member state, sees the burden falling far more on the Central and Eastern European nations, starting with countries on or near the Ukraine border.

Kristi Värk, head of the interior ministry's EU and foreign relations department, told ERR's radio news that: "In the case of Estonia, the situation here is that we have already used up the funds of the previous period to a great extent, while before these recommendations came in respect of the next period of funding, Estonia had also budgeted for the use of these funds."

Triin Tomingas, head of the finance ministry's external resources department meanwhile noted that many EU member states may still be set to benefit from the flexibility permitted, as, unlike Estonia, they have not used up the money from the previous period, while the majority of countries have not yet agreed on how to use the funds for the new period.

Tomingas said: "Naturally, if Estonia so desires, we could dismantle those agreements concluded with the commission. However, we may not gain much from doing that.

"Were we to redirect funds to support refugees within the framework of the EU flexibility, this would mean depriving Estonia of its longer-term needs, as well as of key investments, which is actually the main purpose of EU grants in the first place," she added.

ERR's radio news reported that there is no shortage of nicely-worded press materials on the topic of how much the EU supports the reception of Ukrainian refugees. For example, the Council of the European Union (a distinct body from the European Commission, the European Council or the European Parliament – ed.) refers to figures as high as €17 billion, which member states would be eligible to redistribute in order to support refugees in housing, education and healthcare. 

The figures are adorned with Brussels buzzwords such as "flexibility measure" and "flexible solidarity".

However, the reality is that neither the refugees or those aiding them will see this money – the hefty sum is contingent on an agreement that member states are able to use up funds already allocated to them for refugees first of all, including money left over from previous budgetary period and that for the new seven-year period (2021-2027).

There are also geographical differences. Border states [with Ukraine] are under the most pressure, including Poland, which has seen over seven million Ukrainians crossing since the war's current phase started in February, though five million have returned in the opposite direction, and half-a-million have requested temporary protection in Poland – compared with just 31,000 in Hungary, another EU state which borders with Ukraine (the latter country has a Hungarian speaking minority in its westernmost region, which have reportedly suffered discrimination on the part of the Ukrainian state, Hungary says – ed.).

The figures for protection in Lithuania and Latvia, neither of which border Ukraine, are 70,000 and 42,000 respectively, while for Estonia the figure is 39,000, from the total 60,000 estimated to be in-country.

At the same time, many member states' governments have given up on forecasting or estimating figures, or at least do not want to publicly share them with authorities such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) ERR reports.

As for additional funding, Triin Tomingas at the finance ministry said that efforts were being made, and had been made for an extended period of time, across the EU and at ministerial and working-party level.

Kristi Värk at the interior ministry noted that when the rules of temporary protection were agreed upon in the spring, all the member states were of the opinion that war refugees would not be forcibly pushed to one member state or another and would be settled in the state in which they arrived – though of course they could move to another member state of their own free will.

More information is being provided to these people to help them make better choices and to help address the issue of the uneven distribution of refugees, Värk added, with possible, joint transfers between member states in cases where large numbers of people arrive having also been discussed.

For instance, ERR reports, there are three Ukrainian refugees who have claimed protection per 100 residents in Estonia, compared with one per 100 in Austria, 0.6 in Denmark and just 0.2 in France.

However, since spring such discussions have dwindled, Värk said, and Estonia has neither officially raised the issue nor made any final decisions.

Triin Tomingas opined that member States and the European Commission should make a fundamental decision concerning a need for some kind of war refugee funding, while at the same time, smaller member states' voices were being drowned out both given the volume of numbers and in the wake of the ongoing energy crisis.

Estonia has, however, raised the issue of funding at EU interior ministers' meetings, Värk said, while European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson has been asked to share that message with the rest of the European Commission, though solutions are still awaited, Värk said.

As noted the tentative sum is €10 million; there is also the issue of where funding will come from – joint loans used to fund reconstruction grants are a sensitive topic, she added.

The issue had also caused controversy in the EU during the 2015 migrant crisis, ERR reports.

€10 million would equate to just €250 per person, even only taking into account those who have sought temporary protection, she added.

By comparison, in the summer the prime ministers of the three Baltic States prepared a joint statement in which they asked Europe for €6,000 per refugee.

Other potential sources include a European Commission pot of collated funds totaling €400 million and which was allocated first off to the border states.

At the end of last month, interior minister Lauri Läänemets (SDE) told regional daily Lõuna Postimees that the state was prepared to receive at least 50,000 temporary protection recipients, qualifying that by noting the war may drag on for a long time to come and consequently the need for an action plan involving other countries.

Overall, the UN Refugee Agency estimated a total of 7.8 million Ukrainian refugees currently staying in European nations, of which 4.7 million have requested temporary protection or some other category of protection.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

Source: ERR Radio News

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