International asylum approvals in Estonia almost quintupled in 2022
Estonia's migration statistics were most affected last year by the arrival of Ukrainian war refugees to Estonia, as well as the repercussions of the sanctions and restrictions imposed on citizens of the Russian Federation and Belarus.
The number of recipients of international protection rose nearly five-fold during the year – whereas usually around 50 people would receive international protection in Estonia in any given year (out of around 100 applicants, on average), in 2022, the year Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the figure was 2,107 people.
Applying for international protection when needed is a basic human right, and as such, Estonia has assumed its international obligation to protect those foreign nationals who cannot continue to live safely in their home country.
In formal terms, a recipient of international protection is constituted by a foreign national who has been recognized as a refugee, a recipient of additional protection or temporary protection and who has been granted an Estonian residence permit.
Until the start of last year, the number of applicants and recipients of international protection remained relatively low in Estonia.
Since 1997, 4,264 foreign nationals have applied for international protection (save for temporary protection) from Estonia, while that international protection has been granted (refugee status and supplementary protection status) to 2,709 people.
The sharp uptick occurred in the wake of Russia's military aggression in Ukraine.
As a result, a total of 2,940 applications were submitted during the year, compared with the usual hundred applications.
International protection was granted to 2,107 people instead of the usual 50, according to migration statistics prepared by the Ministry of Culture.
The number of applicants for protection rose nearly four-fold on year to 2022, while the number of recipients was nearly five times higher in 2022, than in 2021.
Pursuant to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, temporary protection was applied to war refugees for the first time in the EU last year, while Estonia granted temporary protection to 41,639 Ukrainian citizens in the same year.
In 2022, 41,871 Ukrainian war refugees applied for temporary protection from and in Estonia, of whom 27,465 were women, 14,406 were men and 14,396 were children.
This included those who had left Ukraine prior to the February 2022 invasion and were as a result unable to return, in addition to those who arrived after the invasion began.
Eda Silberg, Undersecretary for Cultural Diversity at the Ministry of Culture, said: "The majority of the recipients of international protection in 2022 were also Ukrainian citizens who could not apply for temporary protection, on the grounds that they had left Ukraine before the start of hostilities."
Temporary protection is granted to those foreign citizens who are among the recipients of temporary protection based on a European Commission proposal and the implementing decision of the Council of the European Union.
Temporary protection is applied exceptionally and when a large number of people are at risk, while its maximum term is three years.
Over time, several recipients of international protection have either returned to their home country or settled in another EU member state, but there are also those whose reason for staying in Estonia has changed. For example, 11 recipients of international protection have since received Estonian citizenship.