The wars and global demographic developments of recent years have created a major refugee crisis, including in Europe.
Estonia is a part of Europe and thus well aware of the complex situation. Our moral duty is to help the people in distress, and the Estonian state is strong enough to accomplish this. Estonia is participating in resolving the crisis voluntarily and in proportion to its weight within the European Union.
Our goal is to help some refugees integrate into Estonia and contribute to our society.
In cooperation with the European Union, Estonia also participates in preparing a long-term migration plan, a part of which should be targeted at resolving crises in the countries of origin.
- March 29, 2016: Estonia received first war refugees who were relocated within the European agenda migration framework.
- March 24, 2016: Estonia will receive the first war refugees from Greece in the framework of the European agenda on migration. Among them, there is a five-member Iraqi family, one man from Syria and one man from Yemen.
- Refugees will not arrive in Estonia all at once but in smaller groups within two years, so as to properly integrate those who arrive.
- First refugees will arrive after Estonia has finished preparations for receiving them.
- Estonia is working to have background checks on persons seeking refugee status in the EU to be carried out in Greece and Italy. Background checks on refugees relocated from outside the EU will be conducted by the United Nations.
- Security risk is a reason for rejecting a refugee.
- We wish to have a greater say in the selection of refugees – with preference to families, single mothers with children – persons who are likely to adapt more easily.
- The refugees arriving in Estonia will already have international protection and will be accommodated in apartments selected and prepared by the Ministry of Social Affairs in cooperation with local municipalities. They will not be housed in accommodation centres.
- Refugees will not be accommodated at a single location. The aim is to ensure the availability of necessary support services, job opportunities and schools and kindergartens for children.
- Refugees will be helped to work as soon as possible, so as to avoid straining the social services system. They will participate in Estonian language courses and are expected to accept local conventions.
Estonia does not intend to remain a bystander in the Mediterranean crisis and is keen to help.
- Estonia does not dispute the refugee distribution formula.
- Each country shall retain the right to decide whether to apply a permanent crisis system.
- Frontline countries, including Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, should be provided with more assistance to cope with refugees.
- The European Union should significantly strengthen its efforts to tackle the causes of the migration wave in countries of origin by sending humanitarian aid, combating human trafficking and participating in peacekeeping missions. Effective border controls have to be restored and conditions created for a peace process in Syria.
Estonia’s action plan
The aim of the action plan is to ensure Estonia’s readiness to launch the resettlement and relocation schemes and ensure their smooth operation. This is accomplished by mapping the necessary activities and additional resources required.
- The action plan and budget are prepared to account for the arrival of more than 500 persons in two years.
- In the first order, a relocation programme will be launched to help the European Union countries under migratory pressure (Italy, Greece).
- The target group for relocation and resettlement are persons with greatest potential to integrate into Estonian society.
- Persons will not be settled in accommodation centres for asylum seekers and will arrive in places of residence prepared for them in local municipalities.
- Integration into society will be based on the existing adaptation programme and integration measures of the Ministry of the Interior, in cooperation with the Ministry of Culture and various partners.
- The Ministry of Social Affairs shall also organise a public procurement to find a partner for providing necessary support services to persons under international protection, e.g. Estonian language courses, translation services, etc.
Refugees will be received under one of two scenarios:
1. Persons with refugee status
If a person has already been granted international protection:
- He/she shall be referred to a local municipality for accommodation after entry into Estonia (reception by local municipalities is voluntary).
- He/she shall be provided with assistance for renting a residence, learning Estonian and essential translation services.
- He/she shall be entitled to the benefits available to all Estonian residents:
- state pension, family benefits, employment services and employment subsidy, social benefits, health services.
- He/she shall have the right to work, receive employment services and employment subsidy on the same basis as permanent residents of Estonia. The unemployment insurance fund (Töötukassa) shall prepare an individual action plan for finding work.
- All persons arriving in Estonia under the European migration plan belong to this group and will be immediately accommodated in local municipalities upon their arrival.
2. Persons seeking international protection
Persons still seeking international protection shall be accommodated in an accommodation centre for the duration of proceedings.
The accommodation centre shall provide:
- financial support at official subsistence level (90 euros per month in 2015)
- clothing and other essentials
- medical examination and access to health services
- Estonian language instruction and essential translation services
- transport services for procedural acts
Refugees in Estonia
Estonia has received a relatively small number of applications for international protection compared to other EU member states, but the number of applications has increased each year.
- From 1997 until 31 May 2015, Estonia received a total of 709 applications, and protection was granted to 114 persons (including 74 refugees and 40 recipients of complementary protection).
- 90 applications for international protection were received in the first five months of 2015 (2014 total 147, 2013 total 97, 2012 total 77).
- Throughout the years, Estonia has received the largest number of applications for international protection from Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Syria and Afghanistan.
Housing of refugees
If a person has received international protection, i.e. refugee status, he/she shall not be housed in an accommodation centre but shall be living in a home, such as a rental apartment found in social housing or on the free market.
The Ministry of Social Affairs will help find residences for refugees.
For persons seeking asylum, Estonia provides an accommodation centre in Vao village, Lääne-Viru County.
- Vao accommodation centre currently houses 73 persons
- Of those, 54 are asylum seekers and 19 are refugees with a residence permit
- The centre houses 24 children and 15 women, and a total of 11 families
- At present, the centre accommodates persons from 16 different countries. The largest number of residents is from Ukraine, Armenia, Iraq, Palestine, Dagestan and Georgia.
Data as of 20th of June 2016
Social system and benefits
Refugees are entitled to state pension, family benefits, employment services and employment subsidy, social benefits and other support on the same basis as any permanent resident of Estonia.
Benefits and housing
- Rent, essential translation services and Estonian language instruction costs are covered by the state for up to two years after granting a residence permit to the refugee.
- It is assumed that this shall enable the refugee to swiftly adapt, acquire the language skills required for working and find a job, either independently or with the help of the unemployment insurance fund.
- The expenses covered during the first two years are pegged to the official subsistence level, which is 90 euros this year and 130 euros in 2016. (For example, rental costs are covered at up to 18 m2 per person, assuming that the rent does not exceed 0.3 subsistence levels per square metre per month).
- If a person arriving in Estonia is already under international protection, i.e. has refugee status, he/she shall not be accommodated in Vao accommodation centre and an apartment shall be rented for him/her.
- The aim is to house refugees in different parts of Estonia.
- Preferably, the local municipality receiving the refugee should provide an apartment in municipal housing. If a local municipality has no housing available, an apartment shall be rented for the refugee and his/her family on the local housing market, considering the applicable prices.
- Refugees may work in Estonia on the same basis as permanent residents of Estonia.
- An asylum seeker may not work or conduct a business in Estonia during the first six months after submitting an application for asylum or an application for a residence permit. He/she shall have this right if a decision concerning his/her status has not entered into force during this period due to reasons independent of the applicant.
- The unemployment insurance fund communicates job offers, helps find a temporary job or offers practical training in order to assist the refugees in finding employment.
- In case of relocation of refugees from third countries, a medical examination will be performed in a refugee camp before the person sets out for the new country of residence. A person can be rejected on health grounds.
- An asylum seeker arriving in Estonia by himself/herself shall initially be sent to a acommodation centre where the centre’s health service provider performs a medical examination. That can for example be a family physician is working at the location. If an asylum seeker is sent to the Vao accommodation centre, he/she will usually be visited by a family physician within a week, or sooner if the person has health-related issues. The local family physician of Väike-Maarja provides this service to the Vao accommodation centre.
- Refugees have health insurance coverage on the same terms as permanent residents of Estonia. Health insurance does not cover refugees who do not work or study and are not registered as unemployed with the unemployment insurance fund.