Racism, Racial Discrimination and Migration in Estonia 2015-2016


This Research briefing has been developed by the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) and Anni Säär, Estonian Human Rights Centre. This research briefing focusses on three main areas: political narratives and public policy; labour market integration; and racist violence and access to justice, taking into account the various levels at which racism and discrimination on grounds of race, religion or nationality can take place.

Overview: Migrants in Estonia

In 2015, there were 192.900 foreign-born residents in Estonia, corresponding to 14.7% of the total population. 13.000 (1.0%) were born in another EU Member State and 179.600 (13.7%) were born outside the EU. In 2015, 230 asylum seekers applied for asylum in Estonia, up from 155 in 2014.T he main countries of citizenship for non-EU asylum applicants in 2015 were Ukraine, Russia, Syria and Iraq.

Political Narratives and Public Policies

Political and Public Discourse

Relocation or resettling asylum seekers and refugees to Estonia became the main issue of political debates in 2015/16. As part of this discourse several cases of racist speech by politicians and state officials against asylum seekers and refugees were reported. Many referred to an alleged threat and an imminent danger Estonia and Estonia’s culture is facing due to the arrival of asylum seekers and refugees. The far right party Estonian Conservative People´s Party (EKRE), for instance, campaigned with slogans such as “EKRE will send them (the refugees) out when getting into power” while warning that “refugees are already are coming, as in recent months the numbers of dark-skinned has increased significantly.”

In May 2015, Kristiina Ojuland, Estonian politician and former minister of foreign affairs, published an article in an Estonian newspaper stating that “the white race is in danger”.

On another occasion, Ojuland said that “there must be a distinction between classical asylum seeker, who so far have arrived to Estonia, such as the Ukrainians, who are fleeing from the war and “luck searcher” Africans(…). What kind of work can niggas do, who can´t read-write? Stop lying to the people.” There was no political nor judicial response to that statement as the Penal Code of Estonia does not include a provision on hate speech.

According to polls, public opinion towards refugees was divided in 2015. A study revealed that almost half of respondents (42%) were anti-refugees, while 32% expressed their support and 26% said they were neutral.

Anti-migration protests

In 2015, 6 registered anti-migrant demonstrations took place with several hundred people participating at each event, with some explicitly against Muslim migrants and the “Islamization of Estonia”. In September 2015, 7.000 people attended the pro-refugee concert “Friendly Estonia”.

The Soldiers of Odin, an anti-migrant and neo-Nazi vigilante groups originally founded in Finland, expanded to Estonia in 2016. In February 2016, they held a torch-lit march in Tallinn with around 2.500 people participating.

6th June at Tammsaare park in Tallinn, 10th June at Toompea (Tallinn), 18th July at Vabaduse Väljak (Liberty Square, Tallinn), 30th October in Valga, 28th November in Tartu and 20th December in Haapsalu.


The national integration plan “Integrating Estonia 2020”, outlines Estonia’s integration policy from 2014 to 2020. It focuses on the integration of the Russian-speaking minority population but also includes a chapter on the integration of newly or recently arrived immigrant. It states that no one should be discriminated due to their nationality, race, colour of skin, sex, language, origin, religion, political or other opinions, social or pecuniary status or other circumstances.

Labour Market Integration

National statistics on unemployment or employment rates are not disaggregated by country of birth, nationality or citizenship in Estonia, which makes it impossible to see the extent of integration in the labour market. According to Eurostat, the unemployment rate for Estonian citizens stood at 5,6% while the unemployment rate for foreign citizens was 9,3%  in 2015.

As part of this research, interviewee cited examples of racial discrimination of migrants in the workplace. In theory, migrant workers can report discrimination to the Labour Dispute Committee which is free of charge. However, in practice, migrant workers are often not aware of their rights and do not know where to get help and support.

One interviewee, a black American, described his own experiences of racial discrimination when applying for a job as a chef: “I was applying to lounge for a cooking job. One of my friends /–/ set up the meeting with the lady in charge of the kitchen. She knew I was American, and that I had worked /–/ before, in a kitchen so it wouldn’t be that much of a problem and that I should have a trial day. But when I arrived for the trial, she suddenly said it would not be a good idea to do it that day. And that she thought the people in the kitchen would  not want me there. All of these things she could have told me on the phone, but she waited to see me in person, and then made those assumptions. And that just blew me away.”

Racist Violence and Access to Justice

Figures on racist crimes against migrants or figures on racially motivated hate crimes are not published by Estonian Authorities. However, some racist incidents were reported by civil society and international organizations. They reported several cases of attacks on asylum seekers accommodation, for example, in June 2015 the windows of an asylum seekers accommodation were damaged twice and in September 2015 the same accommodation was set on fire. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported a physical assault on a Sudanese refugee.

It is reported that racial profiling takes place at the port and airport of Tallinn. An interviewee described his experience of him and another person with a dark skin colour were the only ones  in a larger group to be stopped by the police on their way to Finland in March 2016.

A key issue regarding access to justice for migrants and ethnic/religious minorities in Estonia is the limited provision of the Penal Code that does not address hate crime and its various bias motivations. However, there has been some progress in this area as the Ministry of Justice reported that they have organized a seminar in cooperation with Finnish Police academy and Estonian Police and Border Guard Board regarding processing and data collection of hate crimes in 2016.

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