On the initiative of the European Union Affairs Committee, discussion of the migration policy of Estonia as a matter of significant national importance was held in the plenary assembly of the Riigikogu on Tuesday. The need for cross-party cooperation was stressed.
Chairman of the European Union Affairs Committee Kalle Palling said that Estonia does not remain intact by the conflicts in the Middle East and Africa. “We must be able to contribute to the solution of this crisis as a state, in a cross-party manner, in solidarity with the rest of Europe. We should have value-based positions, and not political parties scoring points,” Palling said.
Palling stressed Estonia’s position according to which all EU member states must participate in the resolution of the crisis proportionally, according to their abilities.
Palling said that it is important to focus on helping the main African countries under the refugee pressure. He called to support the neighbouring countries of Syria, such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, which have received millions of refugees. “In a longer perspective, it is important to promote the economy there and create jobs, in addition to humanitarian aid,” Palling said. He added that Estonia has supported the alleviation of the humanitarian situation of Syrian refugees with 1.8 million euro.
The Minister of the Interior Hanno Pevkur said that an action plan for resettlement and relocation which provides for the necessary activities and the entities responsible for carrying out the activities has been drafted with participation by relevant ministries. “For better implementation of the decision, we have compiled a profile of the persons to be relocated. We wish to help people who wish to come to live here, and are able to adapt in Estonia and have motivation for that. Estonia would prefer to take in full families, as well as persons from vulnerable groups such as single parent families and unaccompanied minors or orphans,” Pevkur said. He added that, of course, these people must not pose a threat to the security of the Estonian state.
Pevkur said that an agreement had been signed with Italian colleagues on 2 October, which allows our officials from the police, Security Police and the Ministry of Social Affairs to go to Italy in order to carry out procedural acts. “It will be for Estonia to decide whether a person will come to Estonia or not,” Pevkur stressed.
According to the data of the Minister of the Interior, more than 3000 aliens from non-EU countries received an initial residence permit for settlement in Estonia last year.
Chairman of the Estonian Refugee Council Eero Janson said that, over the next two years, Estonia will receive about 500 people who need protection within the framework of relocation and resettlement programmes. “Let’s be honest, this is a very small contribution in the context of the European and global refugee crisis,” Janson said.
In his speech, Janson pointed out the principles to which greater attention should be paid when receiving refugees and in the Government’s action plan. In his opinion, the “selection” of refugees should be non-discriminatory as to the religion, skin colour and other characteristics of the people. “We must take into account the personal preferences of the refugees and their existing ties to a given country,” Janson said. He also attached importance to the knowledge of the Estonian language and using the potential of every refugee. “Settling refugees inside Estonia must be based first and foremost on the existence of jobs and school places, and the support network and language learning opportunities,” Janson said.
In his report, the Minister of Social Protection Margus Tsahkna presented twelve open proposals for development of a common policy. They included the continuation of the conservative immigration, language and citizenship policy of Estonia, the addressing of the root causes of the migration crisis, the establishment of effective control over the external borders of Schengen, the requirement of the right of Member States to decide for themselves on immigration policy, and the reviewing of the European Union’s financial instruments to mitigate the effects of the refugee crisis. Tsahkna proposed to establish a quota for receiving refugees by law, and to establish both in Estonia and in the European Union a list of “safe countries and regions” the citizens of which do not need protection or asylum.
Tsahkna’s proposals also concerned the ensuring of border control capacity on the external border of the EU, consideration of Estonian cultural space and traditions, and an adaptation programme for persons who have received international protection. Also, the granting of a residence permit to persons who have received international protection, and returning them to their home countries after stability has been achieved there.
Discussions on the refugee crisis at the European Union Affairs Committee
On 22 September, the European Union Affairs Committee got an overview of the current situation in easing the refugee crisis from Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas. At the informal meeting of the heads of state or government held on 23 September, the Prime Minister will proceed from the positions adopted in the EU Affairs Committee on 11 September.
The meeting of the EU Affairs Committee on 22 September
On Friday, the European Union Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu (Parliament of Estonia) supported the positions of the Government of Estonia regarding the proposals of the European Commission on easing migratory pressures and helping Italy, Greece and Hungary to relocate 120,000 refugees.
Estonia considers it important to tackle the root causes of migration pressure problems. For that, it is necessary to continue the efforts to guarantee peace in Syria, Libya and other crisis hotspots, to strengthen the external borders of the EU and to establish safe zones for refugees as near as possible to the homes of the refugees. Estonia supports setting up a trust fund to address root causes of the crisis and improve stability and migration management in Africa.
„When we spoke with the refugees in the refugee camp in Jordan, we got confirmation that coming to Europe is their last forced choice for survival. The States of the EU should contribute to the development of economy in crisis hotspots and open their borders to trade in order to support the possibility and development of local life,” Chairman of the European Union Affairs Committee Kalle Palling said.
In the crisis situation, Estonia is ready to receive additional refugees, taking into account the capabilities of the state of Estonia, the share of its population and economy in Europe and the wish of the refugees to be relocated into Estonia. We prefer mutual assistance based on the principle of voluntarism.
“As we could see when we visited the refugee camp in Jordan, those who are in real need of assistance should be helped in the local regions and refugee camps. Certainly the voluntariness of the EU Member States in assisting refugees should be preserved,” Deputy Chairman of the European Union Affairs committee Jaak Madison said.
Estonia also supports strengthening the role of the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union (Frontex) and the Common European Asylum System (EASO), and continues participating in Frontex missions. Estonia supports military operation and cooperation with third states in order to prevent the activities of human smugglers. Besides that, we support the establishing of receiving centres in Member States under pressure and making the return policy of persons not in need of protection more effective.
Estonia’s positions will be presented at the extraordinary meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council on 14 September by the Minister of the Interior Hanno Pevkur.
The meeting of the EU Affairs Committee on 11 September
Opinions of the Committees of the Riigikogu regarding the European Agenda on Migration
On 12 June, the European Union Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu (Parliament of Estonia) supported the positions of the Government on the European Agenda on Migration in accordance with the opinions of the Constitutional Committee, the Legal Affairs Committee, the Social Affairs Committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Cultural Affairs Committee.
The Estonian position proceeds from the principle that we understand the need to mitigate the consequences of the Mediterranean migration crisis and to assist the countries under migration pressure, but the mechanisms of relocation and resettlement must remain voluntary for the Member States.
Chairman of the European Union Affairs Committee Kalle Palling said that the Riigikogu had given the Minister of the Interior a broad mandate for negotiations. “Today Estonia is in principle not ready to receive the 1064 war refugees and asylum seekers imposed by the European Commission quota, but we are ready to considerably increase our capability for receiving refugees and to negotiate on the number of refugees. For Estonia, increasing of readiness is more important than number, so that the people who are fleeing from their homes to escape the war would have the possibility to start a new life in Estonia already from the first day,” Palling said.
According to Estonia’s position, upon voluntary acceptance of refugees, the relevant agreement has to conform to the proportion of the country’s population and economy in the European Union. Besides that, it must be based on the precondition that the refugees themselves want to be relocated into Estonia. The Social Affairs Committee considered it important to add to Estonia’s position that the agreement on voluntary receiving of refugees must also correspond to the analysed possibilities of the country.
The Cultural Affairs Committee wanted to emphasise in Estonia’s position that an important aim in receiving refugees is to integrate them into the cultural and educational space of Estonia. This means language teaching, adaptation programmes, psychological support to both the refugees and the local population, training of local leadership, and much more. In the opinion of the Cultural Affairs Committee, the financial resources planned by the EU at the moment are insufficient and will need to be increased.
The Constitutional Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee stressed that in solving the migration crisis that has emerged in the European Union, the greatest attention must be paid to fighting against human trafficking and preventing the activities of smugglers of humans. Therefore the original reasons of the migration problems must be dealt with as a priority. By only addressing the consequences, by just relocating or resettling people, we actually encourage the activities of human traffickers. Therefore it is important to assist the countries in difficulties in establishing refugee camps and giving humanitarian aid. The EU also has to make efforts to get a mandate for acting on the spot in the countries of origin.
In the opinion of the Legal Affairs Committee, more attention has to be paid to drawing a distinction between the economic refugees and the war refugees. In the case of the economic refugees, the measures for returning them should be improved.
The first discussions
The first discussion of the European action plan for migration was held at the European Union Affairs Committee on 21 May. It was attended by the Minister of the Interior Hanno Pevkur and the Head of the European Commission Representation in Estonia Hannes Rumm. The Committee found that the European Commission’s calculation method for determining the quota on the distribution of refugees requires additional explanations.
According to the Chairman of the European Union Affairs Committee Kalle Palling, Estonia’s current positions support voluntary distribution of refugees and the present regulation proceeds from that. “Estonia has maintained the position that it is necessary to fight against human traffickers, continue contributing to it and to cooperate with third states, and to support the Member States whom the mass influx of refugees concerns the most. The Government of Estonia and the Riigikogu now have to review their position. This requires wider discussion on what the larger number of immigrants will mean for Estonia,” Palling said.
“As there are no provisions on resettlement or relocation in the legislation of Estonia, it is also necessary to discuss how the relevant procedure should be organised,” Palling added.
On 13 May the European Commission presented the European Agenda on Migration. The purpose of the agenda is to stabilise the situation in the Mediterranean and to ensure even distribution of persons in need of protection between the Member States of the EU. The agenda describes six immediate actions to respond to the crisis in the Mediterranean. The Agenda also describes the four pillars that will form the basis for the framework of common European migration policy.
The Agenda sets out six immediate actions: saving lives at sea, targeting the networks of human traffickers, relocation of immigrants, resettlement of refugees, cooperation with third countries to tackle the reasons for migration and the assistance of the EU to frontline Member States.
Relocation means fair and balanced distribution of immigrants who have already arrived in the European Union between all Member States. Resettlement is the transfer of persons in need of protection from a third country to the Member States of the European Union. Both in relocation and resettlement, the total GDP, size of population, unemployment rate and the number of earlier asylum applications and resettled refugees of the receiving Member State will be taken into account.
The original EU plan for resettlement consisted of resettling 20,000 refugees from third states.
Pursuant to the relocation scheme published by the European Commission on 27 May, 40,000 refugees from Syria and Eritrea, who have arrived in Italy and Greece after 15 April 2015, should be distributed between the Member States of the European Union.
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