Migrant flow could reach Estonia through Pskov

Polish servicemen and police officers guard the Belarusian-Polish border where migrants have set up a tent camp.
Polish servicemen and police officers guard the Belarusian-Polish border where migrants have set up a tent camp. Photo: Belarus State Border Committee / TASS / Scanpix

A classified threat assessment presented to the European Commission finds it possible that Pskov Airport that lies just a few dozen kilometers from the borders of Estonia and Latvia could become a hub of transporting illegal immigrants to Europe in the near future.

The document that has reached German paper Die Welt reads that the relatively small Pskov Airport near the Estonian and Latvian borders could be added to routes used to facilitate the entry into the EU of illegal migrants.

“The Pskov Airport could start catering to international flights from Belarus, Turkey and Egypt in the near future. From there, migrants could attempt to illegally cross the border into Estonia and Latvia to move on to northern and western Europe,” the document titled, “Situation report: migration and refugee situations” reads.

Pskov Airport currently only services domestic and military flights, while it has the infrastructure to receive larger international airliners.

PPA aware for weeks

Head of the border guard service of the Estonian Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) Egert Belitšev said that the PPA is up to speed on the airport’s plans and that migration pressure on Estonia has not grown.

“We received information that the Pskov Airport wants to open itself to international air traffic several weeks ago,” Belitšev admitted.

Like many other Russian airports, Pskov applied for a permit to service international flights. This mostly concerns flights from Belarus, Turkey and Egypt.

“Russia said in September it had reopened several air links following coronavirus restrictions and once again allows people to fly to tourist destinations in Egypt and Turkey,” Belitšev said.

He offered that the goal of the airport in Pskov is likely to cater to Russian tourists, while no such flights have taken off yet.

“We are closely monitoring air traffic developments in neighboring countries to alter our migration threat level if necessary. It is not causing extra migration pressure on Estonia at this time,” he said.

While it is possible to fly from Iraq to Pskov, the trip has numerous connecting flights and costs over €300. The first chance to fly Bagdad to Pskov is on November 25. The flight is not direct and requires one to chance planes in Istanbul and Krasnodar. No direct flights from Istanbul to Pskov exist either.

Setomaa Municipality Mayor Raul Kudre (SDE) said that the police have not warned them of a possible flow of migrants from Pskov, while the local government is ready to act should something like that occur. He said that plans were laid down this summer when the Lithuanian migrant crisis started. The possibility of mass border crossings in the Setomaa area was perceived already then.

Preparations launched in summer

“We worked with the PPA on plans in the summer, talked about how catering should be organized were something like that to happen. We advised them on where to house people. That is to say we have an activity plan for a potential crisis,” Kudre said.

The municipality mayor added that PPA representatives visited the area to get a better overview of how things could be organized.

The PPA is not rushing to erect temporary barbed wire barricades on the southeastern border. Minister of the Interior Kristian Jaani (Center) said a temporary barrier could be erected along the border in a week should it prove necessary and that the internal affairs and defense ministries have contingency plans in place.

The migrant crisis has left Estonia largely untouched so far. Estonia had by Thursday detained five persons who had illegally entered the EU from Belarus. Most migrants aim to reach Finland or Germany.