The migration pressure from Belarus, which has been increasingly affecting Lithuania in recent days, provokes the question about Estonia’s opportunities to help Lithuania cope with the increasingly critical situation. And should Estonia also increase its level of preparedness.
Migration pressure on Estonia is low, the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) and the Ministry of the Interior assured Postimees.
“The migration situation has not significantly changed on Estonia’s border at present, but it would be short-sighted to ignore the events in Lithuania. It is important to understand that migration pressure and the change of migration routes largely depend on other countries. The primary goal of the migrants currently arriving in Lithuania is to reach Germany via Poland; therefore, Estonia is not used as a transit country,” said Egert Belichev, deputy director general of PPA for border control.
According to Belichev, the latest illegal migration case took place in Seto municipality on June 25 and after discovering it, the PPA directed additional resources to the area, checked vehicles and controlled routes likely to be used for travelling. As is known, the case involved an isolated group and the asylum procedure is in progress.
Estonia has made some moves in recent weeks related to border control. According to Veiko Kommusaar, deputy secretary general of the Ministry of the Interior, a cooperation agreement between the ministries of interior and defence signed in the end of June stipulates how the PPA, the army and the Defence League should establish control over border areas in case of crisis with rational use of resources. A week-long exercise is taking place near the south-eastern border since July 2 where the PPA is training how to cope with illegal immigration and the accompanying risks.
Enn Eesmaa, chairman of the parliamentary national defence committee, admitted that Estonia is relatively vulnerable in that respect and must therefore reach appropriate conclusions based on Lithuania’s predicament. “Of course, everything is possible,” Eesmaa answered to a question about the seriousness of migration pressure. “If we think about how many people are now migrating from complicated areas to more favourable ones and how the countries in between, say Russia, could further it, we can imagine crossing Lake Peipus, for example. But this is theoretical. In practice, Estonia must do all it can to be prepared, just like Lithuania has been.”
But Eesmaa admitted that migrants have crossed the Lithuanian border despite the strengthened border guard. “And not once but in several hundred cases.”
Although the PPA would be the first institution to react in case of massive immigration, Belichev pointed out that receiving a large number of peoples would burden the social sphere and the local government so that in a wider sense it would require efforts of the entire state. “The PPA would have to separate asylum applicants from other migrants, then identify from among the former the ones actually needing international protection. Expulsion procedures must be started regarding the rest, which would require agreement with the country of origin, the individuals would need travel documents etc. and we can see from Lithuania’s experience how complicated this is,” Belichev said.
A recent precedent
The Lithuanian situation heated up passions in Estonia’s domestic politics as well over the weekend. The leading figures of EKRE (Conservative People’s Party) warned in their Sunday radio show against a threatening migration pressure, while the chairman of Isamaa party Helir-Valdor Seeder wondered on Monday why the Estonian government is silent and takes no measures to support Lithuania.
“Friends should be helped. We must offer immediate help to our allies to alleviate the problem. Estonia could support Lithuania in strengthening their border control and carrying out background checks in the Lithuanian temporary camps. Additionally, we could consider financial aid and possible solutions in deporting illegals,” chairman of Isamaa said.
The first partial answer regarding aid to Lithuania came Monday evening.
A ten-member police team ESTPOL-5 will leave Estonia on July 7. Their initial destination was Slovenia, but now it became apparent that a migration crisis in Estonia’s immediate vicinity needs solving. Precise tasks of ESTPOL-5 will become clear later, but Lithuania could use Estonia’s help in drone observation, performing site protection and monitoring the situation, the PPA announced.
Marko Mihkelson, chairman of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee, pointed out that this was not the first time when artificial migration pressure has hit Estonia’s neighbours.
“What is going on is not a random wave of immigration somewhere on our borders. This is clearly a move used as a hybrid weapon which was employed by Russia on the borders with Norway and Finland in 2015–2016 to exert pressure on these countries to make some political moves or refrain from them,” Mihkelson said, adding that the preparedness which could be expected from the Estonian government institutions at present, had been achieved at that time.
He admitted that the activities of the regime of Russia’s vassal Lukashenka are related to what Lithuania has done in recent months to support the Belarus people.
The situation itself is political. Could the only solution be also political and if so, what should it be? “The Lithuanians want to reinforce their border but fences or other border structures cannot help if there is a deliberate intention to create migration pressure as it is presently happening on the Lithuania-Belarus border. Larger political moves are involved here,” Mihkelson said. Lithuania-s main aim is to deport as many people as the international law enables to their countries of origin and this requires cooperation at the EU level, Mihkelson said.