The number of Ukrainian refugees reaching Estonia has begun to fall – from 8,000 in October to under 3,500 in December. On the other hand, many are looking at having their temporary protection residence permit renewed after a year.
The arrival of Ukrainian war refugees in Estonia has slowed in recent months.
"While we still saw 8,000 refugees arrive in Estonia in October, this fell to fewer than 4,000 in November and 3,500 in December. Looking at the last month of 2022, more Ukrainians left Estonia than arrived," said Peter Maran, head of the southeast border crossing point.
The Estonian Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) initially believed that cold weather and Russian attacks would see the flow of refugees pick up, while this has not happened. The PPA has no figure for how many Ukrainian refugees are left in Estonia.
The residence permits of thousands of arrivals are about to expire and need to be renewed in a situation where many have likely already returned to Ukraine or moved on to some other country.
"Looking back to the first months of the conflict, around 17,000 people soon need to renew their temporary protection. People who arrived in the initial months after the war broke out are almost there," said Egert Belitšev, head of the PPA's border guard division.
It is possible the information will not reach all refugees.
"Awareness efforts need to be picked up. How to reach everyone who needs temporary protection and must renew their residence permit and protection status, so they would know the due process," said Eero Janson, head of the Estonian Refugee Council.
The European Commission believes temporary protection should be renewed automatically. However, this might entail serious setbacks.
"Automatically renewing temporary protection, we run the risk of also doing it for people no longer in Estonia. They would retain their social benefits while living in Ukraine or Russia on Estonian subsistence assistance," Maran said.
The Estonian Social Insurance Board pays people who have temporary protection family and disability benefits and ensures health insurance for the elderly. In all, Estonia has paid around €10 million in benefits for refugees.
Editor: Merili Nael, Marcus Turovski