Survey: 2/3 of Estonian citizens see refugee crisis as bigger threat than Russia

Pagulased jooksevad tormi Calais' sadamale Prantsusmaal lootuses pääseda Suurbritanniasse sõitvatele laevadele.

PHOTO: Ben Cawthra / Sipa USA

Two-thirds of Estonian citizens regard the migration crisis as a bigger threat than the danger of a Russian aggression, it appears from a poll commissioned by the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues (MTU Uhiskonnauuringute Instituut).

The poll asking 1,000 voting-age citizens of Estonia which of the two they consider a bigger threat for Estonia at the present moment - the European refugee crisis or a potential aggression by Russia - attracted 64 percent of responses in favor of the former and 24 percent in favor of the latter. Twelve percent were unable to say.

«The ongoing migration crisis in Europe has led to a situation where the people of Estonia no longer perceive Russia as the main outside threat and the events taking place in Western Europe, but also violence in the Middle East, are a greater cause for concern,» said Peeter Espak, senior research fellow in the history of religion at the University of Tartu.

«You often hear the argument that if Estonia doesn't take part in the redistribution of refugees, countries of Europe will not help us in the event of a Russian aggression. The outcome of the fresh survey shows that this argument no longer works. More than half the respondents see the refugee crisis as a bigger threat than Russia in all age, education and income groups.»

«Fifty percent of the respondents believe that if a massive flow of migrants starts crossing the Estonian-Russian border Estonia should build a fence on the border like Hungary did and use force to prevent people from crossing the border if necessary,» Espak said. Nineteen percent of respondents believe the refugees should be placed in refugee accommodation centers and 10 percent would let them go to Finland and Sweden via Estonia unhindered.

«Hence half of voting-age citizens would favor as tough as possible measures in the event of a crisis and a clear minority sees accepting refugees and placing them in refugee accommodation centers as a solution,» he added.

Where Russian-speakers in general are more skeptical as regards migrants, and 90 percent of respondents in that segment see the migration crisis as a bigger threat than potential aggression by Russia, ethnic Estonians are in favor of tougher measures than ethnic Russians in the event of a crisis, authors of the survey say. Where of ethnic Estonians 52 percent believe that a fence should be built on the border and force used if necessary, only 39 percent of Russian-speakers uphold that opinion.

Most respondents believe that Estonian law enforcement authorities and the military would be able to keep the situation under control if large masses of migrants started gathering on the Russian border. Asked who is able to make sure that illegal immigrants don't cross the border, 48 percent named the border guard and 29 percent the military. Only 8 percent of respondents were of the opinion that no one would be able to stop the inflow of migrants.

Of voters of the parliamentary parties, people voting Center and the Estonian Conservative People's Party (EKRE) perceive the migration crisis as a far greater threat than Russia, with such respondents making up 93 percent and 82 percent among the voters of these two parties, respectively. People seeing the refugee crisis as a bigger threat also make up a majority among voters of the Free Party and the Social Democratic Party (SDE), the ratios being respectively 53 percent and 51 percent. Of voters of the Reform Party 46 percent consider the refugee crisis the bigger threat of the two, as opposed to 41 percent who say the same about Russia. Only among voters of Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (IRL) there's a bigger ratio of people considering Russia a bigger threat, 47 percent, than the refugee crisis, 45 percent.

The Institute for the Study of Societal Issues is a think tank established in 2016.

The poll was taken by pollster Turu-uuringute AS from March 22-28.

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