Minister of the Interior Lauri Läänemets (SDE) said eight Somali citizens attempted to cross into Estonia from Russia on Thursday morning, without the right of entry to the Schengen Area. This comes at a time when "migration pressure" from Russia on the Finnish border has also increased.
"Over the past few years, we have seen orchestrated "migration pressure" at the borders of Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. This week, the Estonian Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) announced that ESTPOL8, which is currently providing assistance in Latvia, will cease its activities there, as the situation has become calmer and our support is not needed as much," Läänemets said at the government's weekly press conference.
Recently, similar pressure has been exerted by Russia on the Finnish border.
"Refugees, who do not have the right to enter the Schengen Area, are being sent to the border crossing points. This means that Russia should not allow people to pass through who do not possess a visa or any other legal basis to enter Europe," said Läänemets.
However, the Russian authorities are letting people through from their side, who then submit applications for international protection, which have to be processed.
"Estonia has obviously been extremely vigilant. This morning, between eight and half past nine, eight Somali citizens tried to enter Estonia from Narva. Due to the lack of a Schengen visa or residence permit, they were issued with an entry ban at the border and directed back to the Russian Federation side. These people did not apply for international protection," said Läänemets.
The minister said there have been some additional sightings of people at checkpoints on the other side of the Russian border, who may attempt something similar, though not in large numbers.
"Maybe something is going on there. As things stand, the situation has not changed. PPA is dealing effectively with any small-scale manifestations of migratory pressure to prevent the situation from developing further," he said.
"It's unlikely that these Somali citizens came up with all this [idea] on their own. As I said, they should not be able to cross the Russian border without the proper rights. The message we are sending is that you cannot enter the EU through Estonia like this," Läänemets said.
The interior minister said Estonia is also coordinating its actions with Finland, which has been considering closing its southern border crossing points.
Earlier this week, the PPA said it had a plan in place for dealing with "mass migration" should it occur on the country's borders.
Last year, after a surge in crossings on Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland's borders, Estonia legalized migrant pushbacks at its borders in emergency situations.
Läänemets: Russia's aim is to destabilize society
"We can already call this a hybrid attack. It is highly deliberate, that people come to us, start applying for asylum and international protection and we will have to house and accommodate them," Läänemets told ETV show "Aktuaalne kaamera."
According to Läänemets, the response could involve closing some border crossing points.
"What is clear is that, just like on the Finnish side, the first step has now been taken on the Estonian side. The entire objective of this action is to destabilize society and cause people concern and fear, as well as to reduce trust in the government and state institutions. But we will not allow that to happen, we will act decisively," Läänemets said.
The interior minister noted that so far Russia has not attempted to carry out any of these operations across Estonia's green borders, a weakly protected section of a national border usually covered with vegetation, and has instead gone through Belarus.
"However, if Russia were to do the same thing on our green border, this is the reason we have been assisting Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania on their borders. Estonian PPA officers have been there to help stop border crossings, to gain experience. We've been practicing and learning from our reserves on the ground. We are becoming more and more prepared so that if something like this really does happen, we are able to respond decisively," the minister said.
Editor: Barbara Oja, Michael Cole