The Estonian Interior Ministry has come to an agreement with its Finnish counterpart which will see Finland accepting refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine, if they wish to relocate there.
Interior Minister Lauri Läänemets (SDE) said Thursday: "I am delighted to say that, in cooperation with the prime minister, we are getting there and - more detailed agreements have yet to be concluded - the Finnish government is essentially ready to help us in accepting Ukrainian refugees."
"This relates to those Ukrainians who have arrived in Estonia, but who have not yet gone to work or established themselves anywhere," Läänemets went on, speaking at the regular Thursday government press conference.
The details of the agreement are still being worked out, he added, and cooperation could begin in mid-January.
"We are still specifying what the numbers will be and how they will arrive more precisely, but there is a basic readiness, and I think that the more specific information will be here by the middle of January," Läänemets went on.
"Around that time the cooperation between the two countries (ie. Estonia and Finland-ed.) could also start."
The minister also noted on his social media account that Estonia has to date granted temporary protection, a specific status, to close to 41,000 Ukrainian refugees.
"However, to look at things truthfully, we are reaching the limits of our capabilities. Naturally we will continue to accept all those in need, but the critical question is: Will we be able to offer these people any help soon, and what type of help will that be?" he asked.
One option would be to cut the necessary support services, Läänemets went on. "However, this would not only affect Ukrainian war refugees, but also the people of Estonia, in many ways. We are talking about the burden placed on the education system, the health care system and the social care system as a whole."
"For example, wait lines for treatment, the lack of teachers, or even whether we can offer refugees adequate [Estonian] language training," Läänemets added.
Furthermore, Estonia has essentially exhausted its long-term accommodation capacity in terms of refugees, while the state is also approaching the limit of its capabilities in terms of providing short-term accommodation.
Läänemets wrote: "These trends are bleak, but clear. Winter still lies ahead of us and the war is ongoing. In order to prevent a crisis situation, caused by the continuing migration, and to ensure the provision of the necessary services and aid to the incoming war refugees, and of course also for the people of Estonia, I started talks with the Finns about a month ago, in order to ask for their support. Last night, our good neighbors to the north confirmed their readiness to come to our aid."
Läänemets stressed that this relocation would be voluntary.
"It is vital to emphasize that we are definitely not talking about the forced redistribution of refugees. Through the cooperation between the two countries, we will offer Ukrainian war refugees arriving here in the future the change to move on to Finland, where at present there is more capacity to receive and help refugees. This is a voluntary decision for every Ukrainian - we will not force anyone to leave here - don't even think about it!"
Läänemets said the SDP-led Finnish coalition quickly realized the need to act in a humane way and in solidarity, and help both Ukrainians, and Estonia.
"I would like to thank the Finnish government, and Interior Minister Krista Mikkonen," he concluded in his social media post.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mait Ots