The Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) is prepared to close Estonia's border crossings if migration pressure increases, General Director Egert Belitšev said. On Thursday (November 16) morning, 19 people were allowed to cross the Russian border and try and enter Estonia without the correct documents.
This morning, eight Somali citizens who wanted to enter the European Union via Estonia arrived at the Narva border crossing. As they did not have the correct documentation or any legal basis to be in the Schengen zone, they were sent back to Russia.
Later in the day, seven Syrian citizens and four Somalis made the same attempt, Belitšev told ERR.
"They all used the same tactics, that is to say, they have been allowed to leave Russia, even though they have no right to enter the European Union," he said.
No one made an application for international protection in Estonia and all 19 people returned to Russia, the head of the PPA said.
Belitšev said Estonia and Finland are sharing information. Since Saturday (November 11), border guards in southern Finland have reported a similar situation.
On Thursday, the Finns decided to close four border crossing points in the southeast of the country for three months from Saturday (November 18).
"The indication from our Finnish colleagues is that these people are being assisted from the Russian side, either by the authorities or by organized crime, who also organize their transport to the border," said Belitšev.
When the Finnish crossings close, the migration flow could be redirected to Estonia. The PPA is prepared for this situation.
"We are monitoring the situation, we are ready to react, ready to take action if necessary," he said, adding the PPA is ready to close border crossings if necessary.
The border crossing points in southeastern Estonia are quiet, Belitšev said. He said the Narva border crossing could be closed if the situation starts to significantly affect its work
"This is a migration attack"
Belitšev told evening news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" that the events on the border today were a clear "migration attack". The Russian border guards would not usually allow people without the correct documents to cross into Estonia, the official said.
People may now try to find other ways to enter Estonia, away from official checkpoints, for example, through the forest, he said, adding the board guards are ready for this.
"We have done exercises, we have trained to deal with these situations. We have plans in place," said Belitšev.
Estonia has previously sent PPA officers to assist on the Latvian and Lithuanian borders when each country was experiencing similar situations with Belarus. Reciprocal assistance can also be requested if the situation worsens, he said.
Belitšev said, realistically, the border guard cannot monitor every meter of the 300-kilometer border but reservists from the Estonian Defense League and the Estonian Defense Forces can be called in to help if necessary.
Last year Estonia legalized pushbacks during "emergencies caused by mass immigration". The PPA can refuse applications for international protection from migrants who cross an external border illegally — not at an official border crossing point — and send them back.
Estonia may close some or all crossings
Head of the PPA Veiko Kommusaar said only people who have legal grounds to enter the EU through Estonia can do so.
"We are monitoring the situation very closely and, if necessary, we are ready to act to prevent any illegal migration. Depending on the situation at the border, this may mean partial or complete closure of border crossing points," Kommusaar said, newspaper Postimees reported.
Additionally, the official stressed this is a very bad time to visit Russia as it may be difficult to return to Estonia in the future.
On Thursday evening, concrete blocks were installed on the bridge between Estonia and Russia in case a decision is made to close the crossing.
At the government's press conference on Thursday, Minister of Interior Lauri Läänemets (SDE) called the situation a "hybrid attack".
Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland all also seen similar activity on their borders with Belarus since 2021. The PPA has monitored the situation and assisted when requested. Finland also experienced a similar situation in 2015-16, also apparently orchestrated by Russian officials.
In the past, Estonia has not been viewed as a destination country for third-country migrants, but as a transit country to Scandinavia, Germany, or further afield.
This article was updated to add comments from Egert Belitšev and Veiko Kommusaar and to add information about pushbacks.
Editor: Marko Tooming, Helen Wright
Source: Aktuaalne kaamera