Estonian, Finnish stances on Mediterranean migrants completely at odds

Mart Helme and Maria Ohisalo shake hands at the beginning of the informal meeting of EU interior ministers in Helsinki on Thursday. July 18, 2019.
Mart Helme and Maria Ohisalo shake hands at the beginning of the informal meeting of EU interior ministers in Helsinki on Thursday. July 18, 2019. Source: Jarno Kuusinen/Office of the Finnish Prime Minister

Minister of the Interior Mart Helme (EKRE) considers the fast and effective return of refugees who arrive in the EU illegally to be the biggest priority. His Finnish colleague, however, has stressed the importance of rescuing refugees from the Mediterranean and relocating them in various EU member states according to the principle of solidarity.

According to Helme, from Estonia's perspective, it is important to keep migration flows under control.

"The prevention of illegal migration and the quick and efficient return of people illegally in the country are a priority," the Estonian minister said according to a press release ahead of Thursday's informal meeting of EU interior ministers in Helsinki.

At the same time, Finnish Minister of the Interior Maria Ohisalo (Greens) told the press on the other side of the Gulf of Finland about the need for increased solidarity in the reception of refugees as well.

Ohisalo's message was that EU member states along the Mediterranean should not be left to handle the surge of migration alone, and that Finland intends to bring together member states who are prepared to "bear the responsibility together" — i.e. accept refugees rescued from the Mediterranean Sea.

Finland itself decided within the past three weeks to accept a total of 13 refugees: some from the Sea-Watch 3, a vessel specialized in rescuing migrants that Italy has banned from its ports, and some from Malta, which has been struggling under a growing flood of migration.

"This year alone, hundreds of people have drowned or disappeared on the Mediterranean Sea," Ohisalo told Finnish public broadcaster Yle on Wednesday. "Our job as Europeans is to ensure that nobody dies on the Mediterranean."

Finland: Work must go beyond search and rescue

At the same time, she believes that care must be taken to ensure that after making it onto a ship, migrants do not have to suffer any further.

"Following search and rescue, we need a permanent system based on shared responsibility and which includes a sufficient number of member states," Ohisalu said in a ministry press release on Monday.

Estonia, however, wants nothing to do with such a system.

"Estonia is willing to discuss providing aid to the countries of origin, but the accepting of people in need of international protection must remain voluntary," Helme said on Wednesday.

It is for this reason that Helme skipped Wednesday night's EU interior ministers' dinner, where the focus was on the relocation of migrants arriving in the EU.

Dinner organized on Finland's initiative

The Estonian ministry press release indicated that the dinner was organized on the initiative of Germany and France, but in reality it was organized by Finland, the current holder of the presidency of the Council of the EU.

Asked by ERR which countries she believed are the biggest opponents to the migrant relocation plan, Ohisalo responded that she did not wish to oppose anyone.

"Right now, I am responding not as the Finnish interior minister but as a representative of the holder of the EU presidency when I say that our job is to find common ground and bring together as broad a coalition as possible for solving this issue," Ohisalu said.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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