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Estonia's involvement in humanitarian action has to be seen in the context of Estonia re-joining the western community after the restoration of independence.

Education, Protection, Camp Coordination and Management
Refugees, Internally Displaced People

Scope of involvement


Estonia is more and more becoming involved in humanitarian crisis relief programs, regardless of the location.


Estonia’s humanitarian focus lies primarily within some of the former socialist block particularly in the Caucasus region, namely Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. Belarus and Ukraine, to lesser extent, are also regions of concern. Effort lies mostly in assistance towards the creation of civil society. The ethos behind Estonia’s action is strongly connected with Foreign Policy priorities and principles of mutual support.

Turning point

The turning point was the restoration of independence and Estonia regaining its place in the international community of democratic states.


Types of stakeholders

Armed Forces

The Estonian armed forces participate in international relief activity in the event of humanitarian crisis.


State humanitarianism

Ministries and state agencies involved

The main contributor is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is co-ordinating various humanitarian activities. This ministry has an annual budget which is disbursed partly through competing new humanitarian projects and partly towards continuing projects

Legal framework

Estonia has ratified most international and regional humanitarian and human rights protection instruments.

Principles and accountability

Estonia is guided by the UN Millennium Development Goals, as well as the principles enshrined in the OECD, the European Union and other international organisations in the field of humanitarian activity.


The public sector is engaged in continuous dissemination of information to the general public primarily about involvement in humanitarian action.

Specific roles of international organisations

European Commission

Integration into the EU and NATO structures means that Estonia shares the same values, including participation in humanitarian action.

United Nations

Estonia is a member of the UN Human Rights Council and through this position has the ability to work closely with other actors in the field.

Specific focus

Civil Protection

Estonia is following the recommendations of the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights in reference to effective review of applications for asylum.


The trends in the areas of assistance to refugees focus mainly on providing various knowledge-oriented activities, such as increasing computer skills.

Specific expertise

In recent years Estonia has developed unique expertise in responding to humanitarian crisis anywhere in the world by sending logistical and/or medical support. Estonia’s contribution to relieving humanitarian crises was recently praised by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). In June 2014 Estonia will join the UN OCHA Donor Support Group.


Humanitarian Education

Higher education

Universities are involved in humanitarian field research, although the primary focus is the creation of civil society and purely humanitarian issues are still of marginal importance. All three main universities in Estonia - University of Tartu, Tallinn University and Tallinn University of Technology - provide some study units about humanitarian action, but there are no specific degree programs.

The main focus is on research of the development of civil societies, where involvement in humanitarian action is viewed as a criterion for assessing the maturity of a given civil society organisation. There is recognition that the government and NGOs efforts to develop field-work will require the delivery of further practical training.

In-house training

Some NGO's provide practical humanitarian assistance to refugees in Estonia - their workers gain professional experience through daily activities

Specialised organisations

Specialised institutions of higher learning - those preparing law-enforcement or military personnel - offer courses about practical aspects of involvement in humanitarian action.

Additional Points

Estonia's philosophy for participation in humanitarian action is guided by the idea that if you help those in need, then in time of trouble you can also expect assistance, additionally, the country believes that involvement in humanitarian action is 'morally' right.


Mart Susi and Rene Värk
University of Tartu

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