Riisalo said the number of refugees entering Estonia has stabilized at around 500 a day, but added that it is difficult to predict what will happen later.
The minister said that many refugees do not know how long they intend to stay. Many want to return to Ukraine as a first chance, and some families with children have already done so, although the situation there remains complicated.
Riisalo revealed that before the war, Estonia had contingency plans to house 10,000 refugees and nobody expected to see many more and in such a short time.
“But no refugee was left without shelter. The state has housed 7,000 refugees in hotels and other places, including those created by local governments,” she said.
The social protection minister acknowledged that while the state was doing well overall, there had been some bottlenecks. First, it was necessary to grant asylum to refugees based on a European Union directive passed two weeks after the war began.
“While we’ve got that resolved now, another bottleneck is looming as the Social Security Administration has to process everyone’s child support, parental support, pensions, and disability support and benefits,” Riisalo pointed out.
Estonia signed a deal with Baltic Sea shipping company Tallink to accommodate refugees on its MS Isabelle ferry. The initial agreement is four months. Riisalo said this does not mean that all Estonian hotels are full of refugees. The state simply had to find a cheaper way of providing temporary housing.
“We negotiated a price that we can afford on the one hand and that represents a comfortable and sensible solution for refugees on the other,” she said.
The minister added that a ferry is not a sustainable long-term solution for families with children and that Estonia will try to find long-term accommodation for all refugees within a month.
“In a situation where the state is paying for housing, we reserve the right to move people from one location to another. This is all devilishly complicated. Mainly because long-term accommodation is not easy to find.”
Riisalo said that of the refugees who have reached Estonia, about 6,000 have not signaled they need temporary shelter. Around 1,200 refugees have turned to the Estonian unemployment insurance fund in search of work.
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