More Ukrainians arriving in Estonia than leaving

Tallink's Isabelle cruise ship has been used to house war refugees from Ukraine since last summer.
Tallink's Isabelle cruise ship has been used to house war refugees from Ukraine since last summer. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Around 200-300 people fleeing Russia's invasion of Ukraine apply for asylum in Estonia per week. While this figure has fallen somewhat on its earlier level, it is still the case that more people are arriving from Ukraine than returning.

At the Narva border checkpoint, around 3,000-4,000 people cross per day, the checkpoint's manager, Marek Liiva, says. The bulk of these are Russian citizens ordinarily resident in Estonia, while Ukrainian refugees make up a comparatively small proportion of the total.

Liiva said: "On average, one or two Ukrainian war refugees are arriving per day; sometimes it's possible to say there are more, up to 10 in a day, if larger families with two to five members are entering, the figure can be higher."

Furthermore, not all Ukrainian citizens arriving in Estonia are seeking asylum.

"Ukrainian citizens whose day-to-day lives are linked with the Russian Federation are also crossing the border, daily. They travel on a Ukrainian passport, and are coming to Estonia and the EU for tourist purposes," Liiva went on, putting the monthly figure of such entrants at around a thousand.

Liis Paloots, who heads up the Social Insurance Board (SKA) crisis management department's migration team referenced a University of Tartu/Praxis survey, which stated that over 60 percent of Ukrainian people living in Estonia who had fled the war exprssed a desire to return home within the next three years.

Twenty-five percent said they wanted to remain in Estonia.

In any case, the figure of returnees has not yet matched the statements expressed in the survey, Paloots said, adding this applied to the EU more broadly.

"At present, more Ukrainians are coming into the EU than leaving it. What we for sure have to take into account is that one third of those war refugees who have arrived in Estonia come from war zones in Ukraine where there is still active military action taking place, or from adjacent areas," Paloots said.

It may well also be the case that it is too soon for those who wish to return to start thinking about doing so, Paloots added; significantly fewer people are arriving in Estonia than was the case a year ago, she said, but at the same time, many consciously choose Estonia as a destination, she added.

"This is because they have family members or relatives who have arrived ahead of them, whom they have come to join. On the other hand, we are also seeing that they are coming to specific employers. They have been able to find job offers themselves," Paloots said.

The shrinking number of arrivals puts a lesser strain on SKA also, ERR noted.

If fewer refugees arrive, they also need less help from the Social Security Administration.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mirjam Mäekivi

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