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Sten Tamkivi: Behind every migrant stat lies a human being, not a threat

Sten Tamkivi.
Sten Tamkivi. Source: Toomas Tatar/Postimees/Scanpix

The desire to raise barbed wire and walls, first as mental barriers, followed by physical ones, would corral the Lithuanian basketball player together with the ISIS bomber, says entrepreneur Sten Tamkivi on the recent controversy surrounding the UN Global Migration Compact. Mr Tamkivi has headed up or founded companies which employ many staff members from outside Estonia, so here follows his take on the episode.

Following the debate surrounding migration and listening to the critique after we made a statement this week from startup leaders to political party leaders, I've realized many people don't seem to believe there is any other type of migrant apart from an aggressive or dangerous one.

I also understand that every time I use the term ''foreign talent'' people seem to think I am using some sort of euphemism for a radical islamic terrorist. But that is not the case.

The point is, migration is multifaceted; there are a hundred and one reasons for relocating to another country. Migration literature differentiates between push and pull factors that make people move around. Sometimes it is a case of getting a better start, other times, yes, it can be trying to grasp for something. Higher salaries, lower living costs; conflict, love and hate are all factors.

Meshing all these complex combinations together for a rigid judgment on the full diversity of moving people is thus wrong, both factually and morally.

This barbed wire, both mental and physical, lumps everyone together: as noted, the ISIS bomber with the Lithuanian basketball player; the Turkish political asylum seeker working as a programmer in Tallinn, with the Estonian builder in Finland; the Syrian family whose home was just blown up by a air-to-surface missile, with the Japanese physics professor, together with the FSB spy who wants to take snaps of the Kuperjanov battalion [a prestigious infantry battalion of the Estonian Defence Forces, named after Estonian War of Independence officer Julius Kuperjanov — ed.].

Undoubtedly, some of these people could endanger the survival of the Estonian state if they are left alone in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But for every wrongdoer, there are 100, or more likely 10,000, good people, who will concretely contribute something to Estonia or whose compassionate treatment during their hour of need makes Estonia stronger and wiser.

In the same way, there are around 2,600 Estonian people right now in prison because they did something wrong, but there are 1.2 million not in prison, because by default we consider our fellow men good.

Moreover, tens of thousands of Estonians live abroad as migrants at present, and there are thousands of migrants living in Estonia who are doing good things.

Take a look at this credible Estonian source which I found, a paper written for the Parliament specifically on the topic of migration.

Please look at these figures and bear in mind that behind each number is definitely a person, but not a threat.

Non-permanent labour immigration categories to Estonia (2017)Number 
Seasonal work1,160
On assignment228
Top level specialist221
Creative worker218
Startup employee95
Skilled worker74
Scientific activities/lecturer56
Sportsperson, trainer, referee and related44
Other (au pair, youth worker etc.)36

Source: Police and Border Guard Board (PPA)


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Sten Tamkivi, 40, headed up Skype 2005-2012 before going to study for a Masters at Stanford University in the US. In 2014 he co-founded Teleport, a company which creates software to optimise and facilitate relocation for those who wish to live and work in another country. Teleport was acquired by global mobility software platform Topia in 2017.

He has been an active participant in societal discussion on developing the Estonian tech sector, the promotion of smart job creation, education in life sciences as well as computer science, attracting overseas students to Estonia, and a greater openness and tolerance in society. He was also advisor to former president Toomas Hendrik Ilves, led the Estonian IT Academy steering committee, and was on the Board of the IT and Telecommunication Union.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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