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UNHCR: Ukrainian refugees need longterm help with integration

Ukrainian refugees' registration center in Tallinn.
Ukrainian refugees' registration center in Tallinn. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The needs of Ukrainian refugees in Estonia have changed over the last two years and they now need help with long-term issues, such as mental health and language learning, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said.

Last week, the UNHCR presented a plan for helping Ukrainians in 2024 and gave an overview of what non-governmental organizations are doing to help them.

More than 50,000 Ukrainians have claimed temporary protection in Estonia and this is likely to surpass 55,000 this year.

Compared to the beginning of a full-scale war in 2022, refugees' plans and needs have changed, said Annika Sandlund, UNHCR representative in the Nordic and Baltic countries.

"What's changing is that we do not need to provide so much direct material support. Rather, language learning, mental health, job skills training, and general education are key issues," Sandlund said.

Estonia has already had some success as many Ukrainian children are studying in Estonian schools, she said.

"Compared to other countries, Estonia has the highest number of children who have fled Ukraine and have found their way to local schools. 93 percent of all refugee children. This is a great achievement, in many other European countries it is less than half," the representative said.

Many Ukrainians have also managed to find work in Estonia.

"It is not 100 percent, but it must be remembered that most Ukrainian refugees are children or women. Many of them would not work in their home country because they have children to take care of," Sandlund explained.

One reason they have managed to find work is because many Ukrainians from the east speak Russian. But, at the same time, this can create tensions in society, the UNHCR representative said.

War fatigue may also hinder integration, especially when the situation in Ukraine starts to seem hopeless to people.

"We do not see an end to the war in Ukraine and this is frustrating for everyone. We all want peace and we all want everyone who wants to go home to have the chance to do so," Sandlund said.

This year, NGOs in Estonia will spend almost €10 million to help Ukrainians.


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Editor: Mirjam Mäekivi, Helen Wright

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