According to the UNHCR 90 refugees resided in Estonia in 2014. In 2014, 145 first time asylum applications were made, compared to 95 in 2013 (Eurostat data). In 2014 the top three citizenships of asylum applicants were Ukraine (60), Russia and Sudan (20 each).
The government’s approach
In June 2015, the Estonian Prime Minister said that Estonia accepting 100 refugees annually does not amount to mass immigration. He also condemned anti-immigrant stances.
The Estonian government voted in favour of the refugee quota assigned to the country by the European Commission.
In August 2014, the Ministry of Justice held a roundtable discussing strategy for the integration of refugees. Among participants was head imam of the Estonian Muslim community. The roundtable discussed measures to be taken to integrate refugees, including compulsory language learning provided free of charge. The roundtable should result in a report about areas requiring regulation, to be discussed with civil society organisations working with migrants.
The roundtable was criticised by refugee aid organisations, which were not invited to take part.
Recent debate about burqa ban in public spaces polarised Estonians. The suggestion received criticism on part of the Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner.
Refugees in host communities
In 2014, in response to the crisis in the Ukraine, the Estonian Human Rights Centre provided information and legal counselling to those seeking asylum.
Protests followed Estonia’s declaration to accept refugees over the next two years. The only relocation centre for refugees in Estonia saw a demonstration of right-wing bikers. In September the facility was damaged by fire.
The council of the town of Valga (on the border with Latvia) announced its readiness to receive refugees and support for refugee integration in the community.
Commentators warn about xenophobia and racism in the newspapers and online portals.
In spring 2015, 24 per cent of respondents in Estonia declared that immigration is one of the main issues facing the country. This was an increase of 19 percentage point from autumn 2014.