Natl Audit Office: Estonia is poorly prepared for receiving refugees

Vao pagulaskeskus. Foto on illustratiivne.

PHOTO: Meelis Meilbaum

Estonia's ability to welcome people applying for international protection as well as the ones who have received the status of displaced person and to integrate them into the society is insufficient and needs significant improvement, the National Audit Office finds.

An audit, drawn up by the National Audit Office which assessed the capability of the state and local municipalities to fulfill 17 obligations which derive from the Act on Granting International Protection to Aliens, concluded that Estonia can fully fulfill three and partially 13 obligations, while the ability to fulfill one obligation is scarce.

The state has complete readiness to pay benefits and pensions to people who have been granted international protection, and local municipalities can offer them the same services as the rest of the residents. Besides, the Unemployment Insurance Fund is ready to help them find jobs. The most important improvements in the past six months in the state's preparations have been making the service of support persons more accessible and initiating a bill that would make learning Estonian obligatory for people who have been granted international protection. In addition, the Police and Border Guard Board is increasing its capability to process applications for international protection, the National Audit Office said.

According to the audit, problematic areas are the integration and adaptation of refugees. The state has devised an adaption program, but it is voluntary, generally lasts only for a few days and might not be understandable for the persons. The state has drawn up an action plan to improve the program, but it does not include many important activities and only concerns the 550 refugees to be sent to Estonia by the European Union. The audit also showed that local municipalities want the state to support them more to be ready to provide necessary services to the people who have received international protection.

The Police and Border Guard Board are ready to deal with 300 asylum seekers this year, but if that number is bigger Estonia would not be able to deal with that.

According to the National Audit Office the government did not pay attention on time to the signals that the refugee topic would become important in Europe, and that has led to the situation where the capability to welcome more refugees needs developing and an action plan had to be drawn up quickly.

The National Audit Office said that the government is solving the present situation as a one-time problem, and is not seeing the global reality and need to work out a long-time and systemic active policy and action plan.

Auditor General Alar Karis said in his comments regarding the audit that the society should prepare for the arrival of refugees because their integration into the society means that locals as well as the arriving people have to make an effort.

The National Audit Office advised the government to determine one ministry that would lead the development of a long-term policy concerning refugees. In addition, more specific recommendations were made to the culture minister, minister of health and labor, social protection minister, and minister of education and research.

Last year 231 people seeked asylum in Estonia, while 78 people were granted international protection. Compared to 2014, the number of asylum seekers increased by nearly 50 percent and the number of people who were granted international protection quadrupled. The total number of people who have applied for asylum in Estonia since 1997 is 846 and the number of people who have received it is 172.