Third country economic migrants have started arriving at Estonia's border from Russia in larger numbers than usual. Generally, these people have no need to claim asylum, said Egert Belitšev, director general of the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) on Tuesday.
Two groups of migrants have tried to cross Estonia's border in recent days, 30 people in total. These people lack documents to enter the European Union, but Russia has allowed them to leave its territory. Estonian border guards do not allow them to enter.
"Not all people's motives are known, but their profiles correspond to the fact that they are mainly economic migrants," Belitšev said on Vikerradio's "Uudis+" program.
Information gathered by the PPA backs this up, he said.
"We see that such migratory routes are being very actively promoted in various social media groups. And in fact, many of these people are very likely to have paid somebody to get to the European Union – whether it be criminal organizations or, as many suspect, the authorities in our neighboring countries," the official said.
People arriving at the Estonian and Finnish borders have Russian visas or residence permits, but try to enter the European Union illegally, Belitšev added.
"If we look at the people who are arriving at our borders, who arrive at the Finnish border, their backgrounds show that they all have a basis for being in the Russian Federation – they have visas, they have residence permits. In other words, these are not people who have tried to enter the Russian Federation clandestinely or illegally, but they have done so legally and are moving on from there," he said. "We see exactly the same pattern – people holding a Russian visa or residence permit but with no basis for staying in the European Union, but still trying to enter the European Union."
When asked about granting international protection for third country citizens, Belitšev said it would be considered if there is a basis to apply.
"For those people who have the grounds and justification to apply for international protection, we will certainly examine those applications. But, as I have said, most of the people arriving at the border today and posing as refugees are economic migrants who do not actually have a basis for seeking international protection. And if these applications are submitted and there is no circumstance that requires international protection, we will also be able to carry out a fast-track procedure at the border and process these applications in a fast-track procedure. So the message is clear: if you are trying to enter the EU illegally, for purely economic purposes, you will not be allowed to enter the EU in reality. Estonia protects and guards its borders to this end and we will do our utmost to keep the territory of Estonia and the European Union safe," said the General Director of PPA.
Belitšev agreed the current situation, called a "migration attack" by some officials, is caused by Russia:
"Exactly so! If I highlight Estonia as an example, if a person has entered Estonia on the basis of a visa, or if they are here on the basis of a residence permit, and the residence permit or visa expires and they do not get a new place to stay, we are not going to look for a new place to put that person, that person is going to go back to their country of origin where they came from. This is standard practice. But directing people you do not want to the borders of another country is a very clear attack on the territorial integrity and independence of that country. So maybe the whole purpose of all this is to sow confusion, to create tension, and to get these countries that are on your borders in a very specific situation to deal with their own domestic issues and to divert attention away from what is happening in Ukraine. So there are very clear objectives here," he said.
Russian border guards have been filming citizens of third countries who have been crossing the border, the PPA official said, raising one example of Russia's direct involvement.
"It is clear that they are assisted during their journey, and this migration is encouraged by our neighboring countries. One notable example at our borders is how, when a group of 11 were on their way to the Narva border crossing, the Russian Federation border guards were also on the bridge who filmed and photographed it all. Perhaps it is not standard practice for a Russian border guard to escort every border crosser and record their journey. This again shows that there is a certain pattern, there is a certain desire to create tension and confusion in the countries of the European Union," Belitšev said.
The video below is one example of a video filmed by Russia and distributed on social media that shows how migrants were pushed back from the Estonian border at Narva.
"Nor do bicycles [appearing] near the Finnish border just happen by itself. It's not as if a person came from Afghanistan or Syria, for example, and bought their bike with them. This bicycle has been put on the border somewhere for them to ride to the Finnish border crossing. And there are exactly the same examples of assistance from the Belarusian border, and not only examples of assistance, but examples where people are forcibly pushed across the border, and in fact, our colleagues [In Poland, Latvia, or Lithuania] have many examples of how, for example, a Belarusian border guard or someone in very similar clothes, probably a Belarusian border guard, for example, cuts a hole in the border fence there," he described.
Those arriving at the Estonian border are mostly from countries in the Middle East of Africa.
"The arrivals in the last few weeks, in our case and also in Finland, are Syrian citizens, Somali citizens, Iraqi citizens, there are also people of other nationalities, from these same regions," Belitšev said.
In total, 30 people have tried to enter Estonia without the required documents, the PPA said, as of November 23. The first group of 19 people tried to cross last week (November 16). On Monday (November 20), 11 Syrians tried to enter Estonia, Postimees reported. The video above was filmed at this time.
Correction (November 23): The number of migrants attempting to cross the border is 30 in total.
Editor: Mait Ots, Helen Wright