Estonia may miss refugees for Christmas

Politsei- ja piirivalveameti sideohvitser Priit Põdra.

PHOTO: Liis Treimann

This coming Monday, Police and Border Guard Board communications officer Priit Põdra (29) goes to Italy to prepare how Estonia will be picking refugees from camps and bringing them here. 

-So you Priit will be the first one to go bring us refugees from Italy?

Indeed I am the first to go, but not to bring them. I will go to create a cooperation network to ensure a smooth and fitting-for-Estonia process of relocation from Italy to Estonia.

-What means process?

On location, there are Italian institutions, EU agencies and international organisations at work who are doing their daily work. They are interrogating the people who have arrived in Italy, map them, take finger prints, arrange the transport, compile files.

-I.e. find out who they are, where from and why they came?

Yes, the whole background. My task will be to find out how much information they have there, what has been done, how much and how will we be able to gain additional information, arrange information exchange between Estonia and Italy, and do a thorough security check.

-Don’t we even know at the moment what the files compiled regarding the refugees contain?

Don’t know now. This will be clarified on location and indeed that’s why I am going, to find out what information they have already collected.  

-What are our options to get extra info on the refugees in Italy?

Indeed, this is the main goal of my mission: to create a network enabling Estonian institutions to gain maximal information on the people potentially relocated. If necessary, to also arrange additional interrogation of those relocated.

-There must be tens of thousands of files regarding refugees?

Sure.

-How do we find the files and the refugees we will deal with?

Italy will give to Estonia the files of such refugees who correspond to Estonia’s profile and regarding whom need for international protection has been verified. Info is exchanged via DubliNet system which I will access at Dublin regulation unit at migration board in Rome.

-These tens of thousands of files... Have you any idea how you will work with these? Will you get the whole heap, so to say, and will then be selecting who fits us?

Estonia has presented its preferences, who we are willing to receive. And it is crucially important that the refugee would personally be willing to come to Estonia.  

-But will this really be considered?

Sure, this is all written into the agreement between Estonia and Italy. The agreement was entered between our and Italy’s interior ministers in October. We desired that we would have a choice; we must have the option to perform security threat check. This means, that security police for instance will perform security check whether the individual is not a fugitive, for instance, if the individual has had earlier incidents (misdemeanours etc – edit). Naturally, the refugees as they come to shore in Italy have the option to say that they wish to come to Estonia. If there is such preliminary information, we ought to also obtain it.  

-The probability that someone steps off a boat in Italy saying he wants to come to Estonia is tiny as can be.

Can’t be excluded – the option exists. Surely, there are lots of people arriving in Italy, but how the entire relocation process will be I cannot say a hundred percent at the moment.

-You are heading to Italy on November 2nd. How long have you been given to prepare until others might follow from Estonia?

This will be clarified on location, but it should happen as soon as possible.

-After a week, two, a month?

Can’t predict. A moth, rather. Creating contacts, how much time the people have there, what the process looks like, meeting all the links – it all takes time. Naturally they are all busy there and all have things of their own.

-How many countries are present in Italy already?

Don’t know exactly. For us the best practice is Sweden, as they already received the first refugees from Italy. The communication officers of all countries receiving refugees from Italy takes place in mid-November.

-Why are you being sent? What is your prior experience with refugees?

What surely was decisive was my experience with international work. A part of migration is human trafficking and earlier in my work, at criminal police, this is what I came in contact with. There, such knowhow will surely come in handy, and among my tasks is gathering information on human trafficking in Italy. A part of human trafficking is illegal border crossings. I have examined and interrogated people illegally coming into Estonia both on the border and at the Vao [village] asylum seekers centre.

-Have you ever been to any refugee camp?

I went to one in Italy with the interior minister, and I have also familiarised myself with the refugees registration centre in Finland.

-But again: how will we be picking the refugees? If a refugee has said he wants to go to Germany, but Germany says they will be taking no more, then other lands are offered or what?

It’s not as easy as I want there or there. If, for instance, a person is unwilling to come to Estonia, then Italy will deal with him from there.  

-Can you imagine what that might look like?

We surely have a plan, but how it works in practice we’ll find out once there.

-May it happen that you go and them several others will join you from Estonia but in the end you come back empty-handed as no-one wants to come to Estonia?

I cannot say «no» or «yes» but in practice I do not believe that as the refugee crisis and the load of it is very heavy on Italy.  

-On the pictures of refugees we have seen very many young men, and lately also already women, kids and the elderly. While in Italy, who did you see among these waiting for international protection?

I have not personally visited these centres, but there, where the people were who had applied for asylum in Italy, were both families and single men.

-Is it harder for a single man to find asylum in Estonia?

Harder... I don’t know but Estonia has forwarded the profiles we would wish to have. These are whole families, and single parents with children. With men, the background check is stricter for sure. Which will not mean there is no background check with families – the rules of procedure are the same for all. No exceptions.

-Is it realistic to get the first refugees into Estonia by Christmas? Or will it rather move into next year?

This is difficult to predict, how long it will take. It does take time and we need to consider that we are in Italy, they have their own holidays and other things. All may interfere, but the wish to bring the first families to Estonia this year is in force.

-Will you be using local Arabic interpreters or will you bring interpreters along from Estonia?

If possible, we will prefer local interpreters, but the ministries may also decide to take interpreters along. The Italian side was very hopeful and assured us they can take care of the interpreters.

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