Tag Archives: Estonia

Tiny Baltics and France lead the way in EU relocation scheme

RIGA / TARTU — Under the EU relocation scheme Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have now accepted 455 asylum-seekers from Greece and Italy since the beginning of last year. Although France (2,702), the Netherlands (1,216) and Germany (1,099) have received the most asylum-seekers to date under the program, by accepting the 455 — mostly Syrian — asylum-seekers the three Baltic states have actually carried a greater burden given their size (only France accepted more as a percentage of its population).

The EU relocation scheme is supposed to relocate asylum-seekers from Greece and Italy to other EU countries. It just hit the 10,000 mark last week, with 150,000 more to go by 27 September 2017. If successful, and that is still a very big if, the EU program would relief the 60,000-odd refugees that are currently stuck in Greece and suffering under terrible winter conditions, as well as another 70,000 from Italy. But implementation is slow and there is a lot resistance from governments and voters, aside from logistical challenges.

That the Baltics are now leading the way in the EU relocation program is quite astonishing, to say the least. Resistance to the arrival of refugees from Syria has been strong and the Baltic governments only reluctantly agreed — unlike other post-communist states like Hungary, Poland and Slovakia — to be part of the relocation mechanism. And as recent as last August the European Commission was critical of the strict admission requirements that the Baltic governments set for war refugees from Syria and Iraq seeking relocation.

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Laimīgu Jauno gadu!

RIGA — Laimīgu Jauno gadu! I’ll be spending January in Latvia and Lithuania where I will be reporting several stories on emigration and the refugee crisis. I will also be preparing for courses I teach this spring in the Gender and Development in Humanitarian Assistance program at Lebanese American University in Beirut.

2017 will be a critical year for the European Union’s relocation scheme, which aims to relocate 160,000 asylum seekers that are stuck in camps and reception centres in Greece and Italy to other EU member states. You may remember that enthusiasm  in the EU for this quota mechanism has been lukewarm at best — with Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the United Kingdom not participating in the program. And the numbers show it: on 19 December only 9,356 out of the 160,000 asylum seekers from Syrian, Eritrea, Iraq had found refuge in the EU. Although Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are only expected to have accepted 1,481 asylum seekers by the end of 2017, out of the 160,000 for the whole EU, progress towards this goal in the Baltic states in the first months of 2017 may be indicative for the success of the EU relocation scheme as a whole. I’ll be speaking with policy makers, Baltic residents, and with refugees who were accepted last year and who are trying to integrate in their new adopted homes.

While 2017 may well be a crucial year for tackling the European refugee crisis, Latvia and Lithuania are continuing to face an emigration crisis. Ever since the  dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, young and highly skilled professionals have been leaving the newly independent Baltic states in large numbers. (Estonia is the exception; since 2015 immigration exceeds emigration, which provoked a response from 39,399 Estonian citizens.) Although emigration has been slowing in recent years, researchers have found that since the 2008 financial crisis more women aged 40-65 — some of them grandmothers — are moving abroad in order to salvage their economic well-being and support their multi-generation families. This is a trend also seen in other post-communist countries like Romania and Ukraine. In the next few weeks I’ll be interviewing both migration researchers and women who have left Latvia and Romania for Guernsey, Germany, Ireland, United Kingdom, Italy and Spain to seek better lives.

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European Commission critical of Baltic states for admission requirements asylum seekers

RIGA – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have drawn the ire of the European Commission over their reluctance to host refugees under the EU relocation programme, the LNT commercial TV channel reported Friday.

“There are only two criteria based on which someone can be refused asylum or relocation within Europe,” Kristīne Liepiņa, spokesperson for the European Commission Delegation in Latvia, told LNT. “One reason is that this person poses a threat to other people’s security, namely, to local society. And another reason, of course, is if this person poses a threat to international security.”

Yet to date Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have only accepted refugee families with children and educated refugees with foreign language skills and work experience.

The Baltic states between them are expected to accept 1,481 asylum seekers by the end of 2017 as part of the EU’s relocation scheme. All EU member states together agreed to take 160,000 refugees that are stranded in Greece and Italy by that date.

In its fifth report on the progress of the EU relocation and resettlement programme, the Commission wrote last month: “During the reporting period, a number of Member States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) have rejected relocation requests without providing substantiated reasons or on grounds other than those specified in the Council Decisions on relocation.” The previous, fourth report (June) also singled out the Baltic countries, among others, for “[…] lack of motivation of rejections of relocation requests [which] goes against the letter of the Council Decisions on relocation and the spirit of loyal cooperation.”

This is the first time, however, that a representative of the European Commission openly criticises the Baltic governments. So far the EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, has only encouraged member states to do more. During the presentation of the last progress report he spoke of a “positive trend, but more efforts are needed.”

Latvia’s governing Unity party believes that the EU report is a testament to the fact that Latvia takes the application verification process very serious. “Our system of domestic affairs staff are doing their job well. […] The criteria should not be changed,” Lolita Čigāne (Unity), member of the Saeima and chairperson of the European Affairs Committee, told LNT in response to the criticism.

Ironically, the criticism comes at a time when all three Baltic countries have started accepting substantially more refugees. On Friday, Lithuania welcomed 11 Syrian refugees from Greece under the EU deal, bringing the total to 73 so far. Earlier last week, a court in Latvia granted five Iraqis refugee status and 12 asylum seekers from Eritrea and Syria subsidiary (temporary) protection. And two Syrian refugee families arrived in Estonia from Greece at the end of July.

The next progress report of the European Commission is expected in September.

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39,399 Estonians sign petition against “mass immigration”

RIGA – Yesterday the Estonian Conservative People’s Party EKRE submitted to parliament a petition against mass immigration. The petition demands a referendum on the government’s immigration and refugee policy, the Estonian Public Broadcaster ERR reported.

EKRE is in the opposition and with seven (of the 101) seats the smallest of the six parties represented in the Riigikogu, the Estonian parliament. Mart Helme, EKRE’s chairman, told ERR that his party had begun to collect signatures last summer, after the European Commission introduced its controversial refugee relocation programme.

Under the EU relocation scheme, Estonia, with 1.3 million inhabitants, is set to receive 302 asylum seekers by the end of 2017 – a fraction of the 160,000 refugees EU member states agreed to take from Greece and Italy over the next two years. To date Estonia has taken in 19 Iraqi and Syrian refugees from Greece.

Only last year, immigration exceeded emigration for the first time since Estonia regained its independence in 1991. According to Statistics Estonia, 15,413 persons immigrated to and 13,003 persons emigrated from Estonia in 2015. The majority of the migrants – 52% of the immigrants and 69% of the emigrants – were citizens of Estonia. Ukrainians, Russian and Finns are among the largest non-Estonian migrants.

Together with Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland and Denmark, the Baltic states have opposed the EU policy to distribute refugees – not immigrants – based on quotas. Given this opposition, the European Commission is now expected to present a final proposal for the reformed Common European Asylum System, next month, which will no longer feature quotas.

Along with the petition, EKRE’s parliamentary group submitted a draft bill that calls for a referendum on 23 April 2017. It would like to ask voters: “Do you agree that the Republic of Estonia participates in the redistribution of immigrants arriving in the European Union?”

The question is: which “redistribution” and which “immigrants”?

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