State and Tallinn representatives disagree on Ukrainian refugee housing

Tallink's passenger ferry M/S Isabelle has acted as temporary accommodation for Ukrainian war refugees.
Tallink's passenger ferry M/S Isabelle has acted as temporary accommodation for Ukrainian war refugees. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

According to Liis Paloots of the Estonian Social Security Board, the eviction of Ukrainians from state accommodation and Tallink ferry MS Isabelle is justified, as they are able to find their own accommodation on the rental market. However, Põhja-Tallinn City District Elder Manuela Pihlap says, that those still in state accommodation, are the ones, who cannot manage on their own.

"We did have about a hundred households living in the buildings on Kopli tänav and Mäepealse tänav, and (now) 85 of them have found accommodation in Harju County on the rental market," said Liis Paloots, head of migration services at the Estonian Social Insurance Board.

Paloots was discussing the situation regarding Ukrainian war refugees, who were housed in two Tallinn buildings belonging to the Estonian Center for Defense Investments (ECDI).

"And if we also consider the example of the ship (Tallink ferry MS Isabelle – ed.), I pointed out earlier that there are about 760 people there at the moment, then we also know that around 300 of them have found permanent accommodation. Specifically in Harju County, including Tallinn, and on the rental market," Paloots added.

Paloots went on to say that, unlike in the fall, when the rental market situation was more challenging, landlords are now also making more offers to accommodate Ukrainians.

Paloots said, there are currently 762 people living on the MS Isabelle, around 60 percent of whom are adults of working age. A further 18 percent are children, while the rest are elderly.

Paloots said, that 42 percent of all Ukrainian refugees, who have arrived in Estonia are in employment, whether working or registered with the unemployment fund. It is therefore expected, that a similar proportion of those living on the MS Isabelle are also employed, she added.

"You have to take into account that there are some people living on the ship, who have all their documents in order and are able to start an independent life. However, there are also those who have only arrived recently," Paloots explained.

According to Paloots, 89 of the children living on the ship also attend local schools. The number of children living there who are attending kindergartens is not known.

Pihlap: Tallinn in a difficult position

However, Põhja-Tallinn City District Elder Manuela Pihlap said, that the city is in a very difficult position.

"First of all, these refugees, who had come from temporary accommodation, from hotels, were accommodated in the Kopli building and in Mäepealse in Põhja-Tallinn, and they were told that this was long-term accommodation, they were given this kind of document. They set up their lives with the knowledge that they could stay in these houses. Their children went to schools and kindergartens. These refugees studied Estonian and attended language courses. However, the tragedy is, that even those who were brought from the ship to Põhja-Tallinn now had to move back to the ship."

Manuela Pihlap. Autor/allikas: Kuvatõmmis/Tallinna LV

"War happens unexpectedly and there are no buildings available to put so many people in. Fortunately, the National Center for Defense Investments (ECDI) had two such buildings to house these people. We have now moved them out of there and are looking at where we are going to put those who are currently on the ship," Pihlap continued.

Pihlap continued. She also confirmed that are no buildings currently lined up in Tallinn to house the people who will be moved from the ship.

"I've told several real estate agents, that we need to find 100 apartments for 100 families in Tallinn, but there is no such possibility," she said. "First of all, the rental market is not that big. The price these refugees are willing to pay also creates certain limits. But it's also true that if a Ukrainian with children wants to rent an apartment, they may not get it," Pihlap said.

"The sad thing about this story is, that these people had to move out in the middle of the school year  [even though] Tallinn had asked them to stay in their residence until the end of the school year. This is because the children go to schools and kindergartens in Põhja-Tallinn. These young people are active," she added.

Pihlap also said, the City of Tallinn had proposed that the Estonian Center for Defense Investments (ECDI) rent the houses until the end of the school year, or even transfer them over to the city. "However, the center said, that since the problem of refugees has been dropped, according to the Social Security Board, they did not consider this justified. However, Tallinn wants to do this," Pihlap stressed.

Less than one percent of Ukrainian refugees in state accommodation.

According to Paloots, the Social Insurance Board has accommodated 50 people outside the MS Isabelle, six of whom are currently in the former Sõmera care home in Saaremaa. However, there has been a chance for those people in Saaremaa to sign rental contracts, she said.

"In principle, the state no longer has a role to play there. The person has a place to call home because, of course, all the short-term accommodation provided by the state has been temporary, and a stepping stone toward having an independent life," Paloots said.

Liis Paloots. Source: ERR

"If you look at the fact that, in the last year, we have accommodated over 24,000 people on a short-term basis, and today we are accommodating only 0.06 percent of all the Ukrainian refugees, it means that people have actually found homes for themselves," Paloots said.

According to Paloots, the Estonian Social Insurance Board, in cooperation with its partners, is working hard to ensure that those Ukrainians who want to stay in Estonia are able to find a home they can truly call their own.

The city has doubts

Pihlap, however, disagreed. "(In) these two buildings and  on the ship are examples of those people, who cannot manage on their own. There are disabled people, elderly people and mothers with children," Pihlap explained.

"When you look at these people, they also have problems with the language. They are only able to manage in Russian. (Language) remains a barrier for them. A lot of people have moved out of the building, but those who can't manage on their own have moved in."

As things stand, the Ukrainian war refugees, who have been living on board the Tallink ferry MS Isabelle, will have to find their own rented accommodation by June at the latest.

Tallink's contract with the Estonian Social Insurance Board expires in June, with the Isabelle set to be chartered to a Canadian company from July.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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