As long as the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) is in government, Estonia will not accept immigrants, Interior Minister Mart Helme said at a meeting of interior ministers in Luxembourg on Tuesday.
Two weeks ago Germany, France, Italy and Malta agreed on a voluntary system which would see countries that join accept an asylum seeker within four weeks of arriving in Europe. They will then check the validity of the application and either grant asylum or send the immigrant back to their country of origin.
Helme (EKRE) said to ERR in Luxembourg that most European countries at the meeting were ready to contribute with expertise, but there was a lot of scepticism about accepting asylum seekers.
"I also said in our speech that we understand these countries, but our ability to receive them (asylum seekers) is not at all taken into consideration. We will not join this initiative, either formally or informally, but we are willing to show our solidarity through technical assistance and expertise," Helme said.
Helme said Estonia was currently facing very strong immigration pressure from countries of the former Soviet Union.
"When we look at it, asylum seekers do not come to us from the Middle East or Africa, but from Ukraine. Second place was Georgia, then Moldova, and only then came Afghanistan and such countries," Helme said.
The Minister of Internal Affairs said that he does not see any possibility for Estonia to accept even one asylum seeker from Africa or the Middle East. "It's very expensive, to process them, to give them grants provided by the international agreement, support workers, school places for children and so forth," Helme said.
Helme said Estonia currently has enough problems with immigrants coming from Ukraine, something which countries in southern Europe have little experience of.
"We are still struggling with this immigration pressure, and we don't see much understanding for us. Ukrainians tend to integrate into the Russian-speaking community and for us, it's a cultural and demographic problem, and if someone says it's not a problem, [for us] it's a very serious problem. And if we start opening second and third fronts to take Latin America, Venezuela, the Middle East, and then sub-Saharan West Africa, we have no power," Helme said.
Helme said Estonia needs to make its position very clear to everyone. "In order to prevent the arrival of people whom we cannot accept and those we do not want to accept, we must take this position. We have long stated our position. As long as we, that is EKRE, are in government, Estonia will not accept immigrants," Helme said.
Helme did not expand upon what the problems with Ukrainians were or what problems have been raised. Last month he suggested an inquiry should be launched to stop Ukrainians moving to Estonia under the European Union's Schengen agreement. Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu quickly said this would not be possible.
Helme also believes Ukrainians who move to Estonia for work, which the vast majority do rather than to claim asylum, should face "systematic scrutiny".
Last week ERR News reported that 61 people were living at Estonia's asylum centers.
Editor: Helen Wright