Report: Refugees impact on Estonia's population less than earlier expected
The potential remaining in Estonia of war refugees from Ukraine is likely to stall the ongoing fall in Estonia's overall population, but its impact will be shorter-lived than had earlier been thought, according to a recent report.
The arrivals could mean Estonia's population remains higher than it was on the eve of Russia's invasion of Ukraine for 20 to over 30 years, depending on the figure relied upon in stating the number of refugees in Estonia – one state agency has a figure of somewhat under 67,000, another, a bit less than 32,000.
At the same time, the higher figure was expected to lead to a larger than pre-war population level in Estonia for more than 40 years, but this has been revised downwards, due to a different demographic structure among arrivals than initially expected.
Märt Masso of the Foresight Center (Arenguseire Keskus), the independent Riigikogu think tank that compiled the report, said: "In order that the population of Estonia does not continue to shrink to the end of this century, either a rise of at least 10 percent in the birth rate is needed, or a positive migration balance of an average of 3,900 people per year, or some combination of the two."
The center last year forecast a rise in Estonia's population, resulting from the arrival of refugees from Ukraine – not the least since a larger proportion of women among the arrivals would lead to an increased birth rate, the center said.
At the same time, support for receiving all Ukrainian war refugees, since the Russian invasion began just over a year ago, has so far remained high, Masso added, while the state of the Estonian economy and labor shortages has also eased arrivals' entry into the workforce.
Masso said: "This cooling in the economy means reduced recruitment requests from companies, which in turn boosts unemployment rate among the general population. This, in turn, also affects the implementation of people from Ukraine in the Estonian labor market."
Foresight Center examined three different possible refugee number scenarios
The Foresight Center at the start of the current phase in Russia's war on Ukraine analyzed scenarios whereby 10,000, 30,000 or 60,000 people who had come from Ukraine would remain in Estonia over the long term.
Masso said: "We worked on the assumption that the birth rate and mortality rate of war refugees would not differ from the birth rate and mortality rate of Estonian citizens, but within a year we have learned more about the gender and age distribution of arrivals, and this will affect what the population of Estonia may look like in the future."
Up-to-date Social Insurance Board (SKA) data has it that 122,554 people have entered Estonia since the start of the war, of whom 46 percent (55,792) have left, while 54 percent 66,762 have remained in Estonia.
While more women than men have arrived, the proportion of the latter is still larger than originally anticipated, and revisions to both gender and age distribution among refugee statistics means that the positive impact on population growth that the arrivals have had, will fizzle out earlier than had been previously thought.
For instance, using the three scenarios outlined above, in a case where 30,000 war refugees remain permanently resident in Estonia, this would raise the population of Estonia to above its pre-[Ukraine] war level for the next 19 years, whereas previously this period had been forecast to last for 22 years.
The addition of 60,000 refugees would likely lead to a population above that of February 2022 for the next 34 years in Estonia, according to the revised figures, whereas an earlier forecast put this period as long as 40 years.
State agency Statistics Estonia recorded 31,584 people of Ukrainian origin being added to the register of Estonian residents last year.
This figure is less than half the number reported by SKA (see above), but this has been put down to the smaller number only counting those refugees who have applied for, and received, temporary protection in Estonia – a status counted as equating to a residence permit.
The original report had the rather snappy title of "Ukrainian refugees in Estonia – population and integration" ("Ukraina sõjapõgenikud Eestis – rahvastik ja lõimumine").
Estonia's population stood at over one-and-a-half million on the eve of independence in the early 1990s, and came close to the 1.3 million-mark around a decade ago, but has risen slightly since then, to around 1.33 million at the time of the 2021 census.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte