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Estonian Refugee Council's 2023 Recap

Notable achievements:

  • We grew into the largest humanitarian organization in the Baltic States. 

  • We received the Civil Society Initiative of the Year award for the campaign "For Ukraine!" together with Mondo and the Ukrainian Culture Center. The President of the Republic of Estonia presented the award.

The locations of our offices in Estonia, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, Jordan and, upon registration, in Türkiye
  • We opened offices in Dnipro (Ukraine) and Yerevan (Armenia). The Dnipro office allows us to provide humanitarian aid even more effectively in Eastern and Southern Ukraine. In Armenia, we support refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh. In addition, we registered our representative office in Tbilisi, Georgia, and started registering a representative office in Ankara, Turkey.

Aftermath of the earthquake in the Hatay region of Türkiye
  • With the campaign "Give Spark," we collected money to purchase a generator in Eastern Ukraine. The generator helps ensure the security of supply at the Kharkiv water pumping station by keeping the computer systems functioning; the pumping station supplies up to half a million people daily, up to a million Ukrainians, when other pumping stations stop working.

  • In February, we reacted to the earthquake in Türkiye and Syria with the Estonian IT and logistics company GoSwift. We launched a donation campaign and distributed tents, generators and other necessities in the Hatay area.

  • Our documentary "Children of Stolen Homes" premiered at Tartu Elektriteater, where six young people from different parts of the world show what it means when you have had to run away from your home. The film features young people from Ukraine, Syria, Georgia, South Sudan and Sri Lanka.

  • We ceased operations in Kenya. In Kakuma, Africa's largest refugee camp, we helped launch nearly 30 companies, supported a local agricultural cooperative, and offered life skills and digital training.

  • We convened and trained an expert roster, who we can involve in the work of the organization when an urgent need arises. The purpose of putting together an expert group is to be better prepared for crises and unexpected increases in workload. We can involve experts who have received the appropriate training in our work in Estonia or, depending on the need and readiness, send them to crisis countries where Estonian Refugee Aid operates (including Ukraine, Jordan, Turkey, Armenia, and Georgia) and where relevant know-how is currently needed.

    The National Foundation of Civil Society financed the expert roster.

  • We organized an international conference in Tallinn, "Macro-trends in humanitarian action: cash, digitalisation, and localisation". The conference brought together humanitarian aid experts worldwide to discuss how to provide aid as effectively as possible in a changing world using digital solutions, cash-based aid and localization. 

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International Humanitarian Assistance Conference in Tallinna - panel "A Flashing cash: is humanitarian money here to stay?".
  • We gave cash-based aid to almost 60,000 people worth over 11 million euros. Since 2022, we have supported more than a quarter of a million people in Ukraine with cash-based aid, i.e. we have provided cash-based aid to nearly 260,000 people with a total value of nearly 48 million euros. Our main partner is Acted.

  • Nearly 30,000 people received food aid in Ukraine, which has now grown to over 35,000 people.

  • In total, we provided different types of support in nine oblasts in Ukraine, four of which are partially and temporarily occupied.

  • We supported the start-up of dozens of enterprises in Estonia and Ukraine. 

  • We organized more than 600 trainings, attended by more than 11,000 people. The work also included monthly adaptation-supporting trainings across Estonia on five topics: education system, entrepreneurship, legal issues in the example of Estonia and Ukraine, the field of work and digital skills.

  • More than 300 community events took place, with the participation of nearly 5,000 refugees. Men's, women's and family events help those who have arrived in Estonia to adapt better, get to know the locals, learn the language and feel part of the community.  

  • We started with MindSpring, a mental health support programme in Estonia. More below.

  • We started community councils in Georgia. More below.

  • Our number of employees grew to over a hundred

ERC EST team pic
Our Estonian team in January 2024
ERC UA team pic
Our Ukrainian team in the summer of 2023

Humanitarian Assistance Programme


In 2023, we provided cash-based assistance to almost 60,000 people worth more than 11 million euros. Since 2022, we have supported more than a quarter of a million people in Ukraine with cash-based support, i.e. we have provided cash-based assistance to nearly 260,000 people worth nearly 48 million euros. In one month, cash-based support per household member is UAH 3,600 (approximately EUR 92). We currently provide support in Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk, Luhansk, Kharkiv, Kherson and Mykolaiv regions.


Nearly 23,000 people received support worth more than 3 million euros (in total) for surviving the winter. The support can be used by vulnerable households living in the countryside and suburbs to buy solid fuels such as coal, firewood, briquettes or pellets or to pay for gas heating bills. You can apply for help in the areas where we offer multi-purpose cash assistance.

Nearly 30,000 people received food support; it has grown to more than 35,000 people.

The Ukrainian team of the Estonian Refugee Council on a monitoring visit
Checking the contents of the food support packages 

We supported the people who suffered from the blowing up of the Kahovka dam with monetary support, food aid, and drinking water.

A generator was purchased thanks to the "Give Spark" 2022 campaign at the water pumping station in the Kharkiv region.

We started with cash-based assistance. Last year, we planned to reach 200 elderly people, but in reality, we were able to assist as many as 399 people. Cash-based support per person is 50,000 AMD (approx. 114 EUR) per month. We assist in the northern part of Armenia, in Lori, Tavush, Shirak and Kotayk regions.

Estonian Refugee Council's activities are largely supported by institutional donors: the European Union (ECHO), the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) through the Ukrainian Humanitarian Aid Fund (UHF), USAID/Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA), the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, etc. The leading partner for the ECHO and BHA-funded projects is Acted. 

Livelihoods and Economic Recovery Programme


At the beginning of the year, on January 22, a demo day of the "Empowering Women" mentoring programme was held in Tallinn, which we organized in cooperation with Garage48. The program first started in the fall of 2022, and as a result, ten new and successful female refugee entrepreneurs are operating in Estonia.

In September, we started another programme with the same name, and already on October 8, the final event took place, where the 16 best business ideas were selected. The best were awarded the opportunity to participate in a 6-month mentoring program that also included mental health support.

The Empowering Women programme received the special award "Inter-Community Learning Action of the Year" within the Adult Learner's Week framework.

empowering women erc
Group photo of the final event of the Empowering Women programme

The four-month entrepreneurship programme Boost, created in cooperation with ERC and the Baltic Innovation Agency, ended in December. More than 30 Ukrainian entrepreneurs with different experiences received support from the programme to develop or continue their businesses. The final event took place on December 16th in Tartu. There were study visits to local companies and cultural events in Ida-Virumaa, Tallinn and Tartu. At the end of the programme, the jury selected the three best, who received a 1,000-euro grant to promote their business.


80 new business ideas and 30 existing enterprises were selected for the Empowering Women programme, which started in February and ended in November. At least 40 entrepreneurs or teams selected by the jury received support in the range of 60,000-150,000 UAH (~1477-3700€) with guidance for six months. We distributed grants worth nearly €56,000 (about UAH 2.27 million).

The new phase of the programme started for the fifth time at the end of the year. It will last until July 2024 so women in Cherkasy, Kirovohrad and Poltava regions can ensure a sustainable income.


We created a learning centre to help Syrian refugees and vulnerable locals ensure food security, adapt to climate change and improve living standards. We trained 100 vulnerable Jordanian and Syrian people in environmentally friendly farming methods and built hydroponic greenhouses on their plots. We built a total of 20 greenhouses.


Jorgan Hydroponic Greenhouses
Growing strawberries in a hydroponic greenhouse in Jordan

Activities in Jordan are supported by the ESTDEV – Estonian Centre for International Development.

Community Programme

In the summer of 2023, five youth camp exchanges took place, in which more than 120 children and young people participated.

children in the grass
Children's camp

More than 300 events were held, with the participation of nearly 5,000 refugees. Men's, women's and family events help to get to know Estonia better, get to know the locals, learn the language and feel part of the community.

group photo
Family event: Visiting Narva Castle and a leather workshop

Thanks to the series of football games organized by the community programme, the Estonian-Ukrainian joint team SRL was formed. FC Karpaty Tartu also started playing in the Estonian indoor soccer league.

football team Karpaty
FC Karpaty Tartu

The activities of the Community Programme are supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).


In Georgia, we empowered Georgian IDPs and Ukrainian refugees last year by creating community councils. The councils bring together IDPs and refugees who help give voice to the communities they represent and help with input into our work. A chairwoman was elected to the Council of Ukraine during the year, and the statute was approved. The council advised and helped us map the local community's needs to target the aid even better. At the end of the year, on December 15, a conference of community councils was held in Georgia.

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Representation of Estonian RefugeeCounsil in Georgia at the conference of community councils

Empowering the voices of civil society and refugees in Georgia is funded by the Estonian Centre for International Development (EstDev).

Counselling Programme

We paid school support for all refugee children starting school in Estonia until the end of April 2023. In 2023, 370 children received support, but 5,016 children received it in 250,700 euros (total budget).

We organized 619 training sessions attended by 11,080 people. More specifically, we conducted 199 adaptation trainings with the participation of 2,123 people, 293 temporary protection trainings with the participation of 6,430 people, and 127 international protection trainings with the participation of 2,527 people. The work also included monthly adaptation-supporting trainings across Estonia on five topics: education system, entrepreneurship, legal issues on the example of Estonia and Ukraine, the field of work and digital skills.

We started with three programmes to develop the labour market, which also ended in the fall. They aimed to support and prepare the participants for entering the Estonian labour market. In total, we conducted 4 trainings, attended by 48 people, and they were held in Russian and English.

The activities of the Counselling Programme are supported by the Development Bank of the Council of Europe (CEB), the Social Insurance Board (SKA) and the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF), Estonian Ministry of the Interior and Estonian Ministry of Culture.

Labor market programme

Mental Health Programme

We started offering the MindSpring programme to refugees all over Estonia. It is a group-based program for refugees that supports coping in a foreign country. Participating in the programme raises group members' awareness and provides new knowledge and skills, and an expert leads them with an experience similar to the group participants. The first groups started in March, and by the end of the year, there were 21 groups in Keila, Haapsalu, Viljandi, Pärnu, Sillamäe, Tallinn and Tartu. A total of 163 people participated in the groups.

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MindSpring trainers at the Estonian Open Air Museum

We offered NET therapy to 6 people. NET (Narrative Exposure Therapy) is a short-term and evidence-based therapy that aims to restore a person's psychosocial functioning after a traumatic experience, including the abandonment or destruction of a home.

In 2023, the activities of the MHPSS Programme were supported by LHV, the Ministry of Social Affairs and the US Embassy in Estonia.

Education and Awareness Programme

The ICEX project, which started at the end of 2022, continued to increase the sexual health knowledge of immigrants and professionals working with them. We conducted focus group interviews among the target group and created a framework for creating sexual health materials. This year, we will organize training and workshops for refugees and professionals to pilot the materials; by 2025, innovative and culturally sensitive materials will be freely available on the Internet.

The ICEX project is financed by ERAMUS+.

ERC ICEX meeting photo
The ICEX project partners discussing the results of interviews in Athens, Greece

During the year, we celebrated two peaceful and symbolic anniversaries highlighting refugee issues: Refugee Day in June and Human Rights Day in December. On June 20, in cooperation with the Estonian Human Rights Center, the International Women's Network in Estonia and Sveta bar, we organized the Refugee Day community festival in the Balti station quarter. On December 13, we organized a free special screening of the movie "Shadow Game" in the Artis cinema on the 75th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights. A discussion followed the film.

The education project aimed at young people continued, during which we conducted discussions on integration in schools with the help of ERC's board game "Diamond Island" and organized trainings for educational staff on migration. Also, as a result of the project, a methodical guide for using the game in work with young people was prepared.

Children playing the Estonian Refugee Council's game "Diamond island"

The Diamond Island project was financed by the Active Citizens Fund (ACF).

Advocacy and Protection Programme


We conducted approximately 800 protection monitoring interviews. Collecting information helps to improve the quality of services and helps us to understand the bottlenecks in the services provided to refugees. We made proposals to change the legislation and submitted opinions to various ministries, the Integration Foundation, the Health Fund, the Embassy of Ukraine, etc., from the point of view of protecting the rights and interests of refugees. We provided input to various reports.

We resumed convening the Estonian Refugee Organizations Round Table, and continued cooperation with the umbrella organization of European refugee organizations, the European Council on Refugees and Exiles and the European Union Agency for Asylum.

The activities of the Advocacy and Protection Programme are financed together with the Community Programme by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Cover photo: Earthquake damage in the Hatay region of Türkiye, May 2023. Madle Timm


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