- +Henrik M. Nordentoft. International Protection Considerations with Regard to People Fleeing the Syrian Arab Republic – Update. 29.04.2021.
UNHCR issues this guidance to promote the accurate interpretation and application of the refugee status criteria in line with its supervisory responsibility.
Eligibility for refugee status under the 1951 Convention
As set out in further detail in the Update, civilians continue to bear the brunt of the conflict in Syria. According to numerous reports, parties to the conflict commit war crimes, other serious violations of international humanitarian law and serious violations and abuses of human rights law, including acts amounting to crimes against humanity, with widespread impunity. According to the UN and human rights observers, arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances, detention in life-threatening conditions, systematic and widespread torture and other forms of ill-treatment, fair trial violations, prolonged detention without trial, and summary or extra-judicial executions continue to be documented on a wide scale, primarily targeting those opposing or perceived to be opposing the government, including
children. The use of sexual violence, including as a form of torture, against men, women, boys and girls is reported to be widespread. In view of the serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law and ongoing armed conflict in Syria, UNHCR continues to characterize the flight of civilians from Syria as a refugee movement, with the vast majority of Syrian asylum-seekers continuing to be in need of international refugee protection, fulfilling the requirements of the refugee definition contained in Article 1A(2) of the 1951 Convention. The criteria for refugee status in the 1951 Convention need to be interpreted in such a manner that individuals or groups of persons who meet these criteria are duly recognized and protected under that instrument. For many civilians who have fled Syria, the nexus to a 1951 Convention ground will lie in the direct or indirect, real or perceived association with one of the parties to the conflict. A particular feature of the conflict in Syria is that different parties to the conflict frequently impute a political opinion to larger groups of people by association. As such, members of a larger entity, without individually being singled out, may become the target of repercussions by different actors for reason of real or perceived support to another party to the conflict. The perception of sharing a political opinion or affiliation in relation to the conflict is often based on little more than an individual’s physical presence in a particular area or his/her ethnic or religious background. In those situations, the risk of being harmed is serious and real, and in no way diminished by the fact that the person concerned may not be targeted on an individual basis. Only when an asylum-seeker is found not to meet the refugee criteria in the 1951 Convention, for example because the feared persecution is found not to be for reason of a Convention ground, or if otherwise the threshold for applying the 1951 Convention definition is not met, should broader international protection criteria be examined, including subsidiary forms of protection.
Internal protection alternative / internal flight alternative
In the new Update, UNHCR offers guidance on the availability of an internal protection alternative (IPA) / internal flight alternative (IFA). UNHCR continues to consider that an IPA/IFA would only be available in exceptional cases. In particular, UNHCR considers that an IPA/IFA is not available in areas currently or formerly outside of government control, and in areas that have seen systematic confiscation of properties and/or deliberate displacement. In relation to Damascus as an IPA/IFA, UNHCR identifies a number of profiles of applicants for whom Damascus City does not offer a safe alternative. UNHCR considers that due to the hardships faced by Syrians an IPA/IFA is generally not reasonable in Damascus city.
Cessation of refugee status
UNHCR considers that changes in the objective circumstances in Syria, including relative security improvements in parts of the territory, are not of such fundamental, stable and durable character so as to warrant cessation of refugee status on the basis of Article 1C(5) of the 1951 Convention. The status of recognized refugees should thus be reviewed only if there are indications, in an individual case, that there are grounds for: (i) cancellation of refugee status which was wrongly granted in the first instance; or (ii) revocation of refugee status on the grounds of Article 1F of the 1951 Convention. With regard to the cessation of subsidiary protection, the host country similarly has to consider whether the change in circumstances is of such a significant and non-temporary nature that the person eligible for subsidiary protection no longer faces a real risk of serious harm. The circumstances which led to the granting of subsidiary protection status should have ceased to exist or changed to such a degree that protection is no longer required.
Moratorium on forced returns
UNHCR’s position on forced returns to Syria has not changed in comparison to Update V. UNHCR continues to call on States not to forcibly return Syrian nationals and former habitual residents of Syria, including Palestinians previously residing in Syria, to any part of Syria, regardless of whether the area is under control of the Government or under control of another state or non-state entity. UNHCR further wishes to remind States that free and unhindered access to returnees in Syria is limited, while restrictions on humanitarian access persist. Forced returns would in most cases also be irreversible given the fact that the neighbouring countries keep a tight control of their borders with Syria. UNHCR also continues to consider that it would be inappropriate to forcibly return nationals or former habitual residents of Syria to neighbouring countries and non-neighbouring countries in the region, unless specific arrangements are in place that guarantee that the individual concerned will be readmitted to the country and can re-avail him/herself of international protection.
UNHCR would also like to offer to the Latvian authorities an opportunity for a dedicated discussion on this new Update and you are most welcome to contact my Office should this be of interest to you and/or your colleagues.
Henrik M. Nordentoft
- +Ērika Pičukāne. Latvian as a foreign language: factor of cultural differences. 24.02.2020.
Why should Latvian be taught as a foreign language to adults? The answer is simple: the teacher can receive an immediate feedback for the completed work. However, teaching Latvian as a foreign language may be a challenge even for a very skilled teacher. Often the language learners do not know even a word in Latvian. The teacher must adapt to individual learning habits of each language learner, and it requires professional experience, much patience and endless creative imagination. Because the different culture of each language learner must be understood, their learning experience and world view must be examined for the teaching of language to be successful. In this article, I will share my personal experience that has formed while teaching Latvian to representatives of various cultures for many years.
We all understand that language and culture are inseparable. Language is difficult to understand outside the cultural environment in which it is spoken. And conversely, if we teach a language, nuances and experience of the culture of the specific people should be examined, as well as professional peculiarities. For example, I offer methods and topics the specialists of information technologies (IT) that they understand while teaching a language as a specific algorithm which is one of the central concepts in programming and whole computer science. While teaching grammar, I use the principle of blocks or chain. When an IT specialist begins to learn a language, he must clearly understand what he will learn in the particular lesson, why and how it fits into the whole system. Why is it in one way in his native language, and why is it different in Latvian. For example, why endings change exactly that way in accusative, and what does this inflection mean in his language. While working with the representatives of this profession, I find that principles of comparative grammar are useful. Namely, we use the verb “būt” when in Russian we can only imagine it (for example, “es esmu priecīga” and “es strādāju” in Russian will be “я (есть) радостная” and “я работаю”. It is easier with users of English because the principle matches in that language.
What should be noted when teaching Latvian to representatives of various cultures and sub-cultures? Would it be customs, food, events, views, values, or behaviour? Maybe differences in teaching and learning process? I would say that completely everything is important, – from the native language of the learners and peculiarities in pronunciation to food, films and art. I would like to mention an example: interest of IT specialists in “Star Wars” movie which is a great topic for a lesson because it offers characters, emotions and concepts understood by the particular group of people.
Learners of Latvian language from China
Education and learning is taken very seriously and formally in China, so they also expect that the teacher will teach exactly what they need to know. People from Asia find it difficult to pronounce sounds “l” and “r”. However, the teachers often are not aware that their students really do not hear the difference in these sounds.
Chinese students struggle with understanding some consonants (for example, in words transports, draugs) because their native language has nothing that would be similar to it. I suggest playing various pronunciation games (see below) to practice and improve pronunciation of these consonants.
Chinese students enjoy homework and various grammar charts. Sometimes the students believe that it is more important to complete various grammatical assignments instead of being involved in communication.
I suggest to use as many phonematic exercises as possible for these adults, drawing their attention to pronunciation of endings. You can also choose a sentence and add rhythm to it by using clapping, stomping or music.
Vietnamese have many similarities with the language learners from China (though it cannot be said about their enthusiasm to complete homework). However, even if the Vietnamese know English very well, they are rather difficult to understand. It has happened that people whose English is almost at the level of their native language (e.g., language learners from Morocco or Nigeria) cannot understand the students from Vietnam. Therefore, as one of the main tasks I set for myself the use of various phonematic exercises, paying special attention to pronunciation of endings.
My Vietnamese students do not like to be in the spotlight, and often they want to remain unnoticed. Vietnamese are also rather unwilling to express their thoughts, feelings or opinion. They distinctly are afraid to make mistakes while speaking. I have not researched it but I think that this peculiarity might be related to their experience at school.
Even though most Asian languages are tonal, e.g., Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese; however, in my experience students from Vietnam find it most difficult to speak in Latvian. Often it is rather difficult to understand what they would like to say even if their vocabulary is sufficient. The students also struggle with learning correct intonation.
Vietnamese often lack the last syllable of the word or it is softened when they speak in Latvian, for example, iet – ietj, melns – meļņš. They find it difficult to pronounce the groups of consonants “dz” and “dž”.
When preparing for lessons and thinking both of pronunciation of sounds and use of correct intonation, I suggest the use of the methodological material “Fostering Language (Speech and Written) Development for Children Aged 5 to 8” (http://ejuz.lv/skanas). Some speech exercises may be found here as well: (http://ejuz.lv/paraugu).
When teaching Latvian to Arabs, a teacher is faced with several challenges, including a completely different writing system and differences in Latvian and Arabic grammatical systems. Since the Arabic language does not have upper and lower case letters, the students often mix these letters up in sentences. Specific problems may also arise from the previous learning experience and understanding of the teacher’s role.
When beginning to teach the Latvian, I suggest to pay special attention to the use of the verb “būt” because it causes difficulties in particular. For example, Arabic speaker would say: “es skolotājs” or “es vīrietis”, not “es esmu skolotājs”, “es esmu vīrietis”. I recommend using various preparation e-courses as a supplementary material, for example, http://ejuz.lv/esesmu.
For students from Arabic countries writing is often not as important as speaking; therefore, they are not willing to spend much time on it. You always have to follow up for them to write what was intended in the lesson. On the other hand, it is easy to teach them the negative form of verbs (for example, peldu – nepeldu, eju – neeju) because it is similar to how it works in their language.
Some other thoughts and recommendations
When working with the beginners, it is best to use simple sentences. Try to use simple vocabulary and do not progress to complicated laws of grammar while your students have not understood the basics of grammar.
When using various teaching and learning activities, remember that considering the cultural differences some students will not feel comfortable and will not like singing together, reading aloud, using music, discussing certain topics or using certain images.
If you are not sure of something always ask your students, search for similarities in their language, use images, translation systems, songs, drama method approaches. If I feel that they have trouble with pronunciation of a sound, I try to look for something similar in their language. Here I receive help from students with good English and Russian knowledge. For example, our sound “o” is a Chinese word for “I”, and Latvian sounds “ķ” and “ģ” may be found in Russian names “Артём” and “Дёма”. If it helps to understand how the particular sound is pronounced, the goal is achieved.
When working with representatives of various countries, it is not real to place your hope on using paralinguistics (for example, voice modulations, gestures, mimics) because many nations will have differences in this area (for example, Indians).
When teaching Latvian as a foreign language to representatives of various cultures, flash cards may be used (cards intended for quick showing, – words, numbers or images printed on non-transparent material). An excellent material is the set of image cards developed by Latvian Language Agency, “Let’s Start Speaking Latvian!”: http://ejuz.lv/kartites.
In addition to the above-mentioned, authentic materials may be used as well, enter in Google search “reklāma latviski”, and you will be able to select advertisements in Latvian that would be appropriate for the topic and language level. When beginning to learn a language, aid is provided not only by an image but also by the added text. Language learners can learn much while examining advertising articles.
Videos are also a good resource when forming understanding of the Latvian. Interesting video fragments can be found here: http://ejuz.lv/videofr. And do not be afraid to use Internet resources – Google can provide excellent ideas and materials for teaching Latvian (cartoons, songs, dialogues, etc.).
When teaching numerals or time, I like to use the website https://time.is/lv/. It is useful also for learning city names (the bottom of the page has names of the cities across the world in Latvian, and by clicking these you can see what time it is in the specific place, and how the name of the country, city should be written in Latvian).
And more! After all, language is a verbal expression of culture. It reflects the experience of our nation. Mongolian language contains a rich vocabulary related to animals; French is the language of food names; but I think that Latvian is the language of nature: forests, sea, and lakes.
- +Agnese Lace. Are Desirable Immigrants Still Invisible In Latvia? 16.12.2019.
In discussions about labour immigration in Latvia among politicians and in society as a whole two groups of immigrants are often distinguished – labour immigrants and highly qualified immigrants. Each of these groups is directly or indirectly valued, with labour immigrants regarded as bad or undesirable immigrants, highly qualified immigrants – as good and desirable. Are such designations true and fair? What do they mean in the context of policy-making and what is their impact on public perception?
Before answering these questions it is worth to take a look at the countries of origin and numbers of immigrants in each category in Latvia today. It should be noted that here only labour immigrants are taken into consideration, instead of the total number of immigrants from these countries (for example, students or persons who have immigrated as a part of family reunification are not included). Also to better understand the dynamics of the last years only immigrants with temporary residence permits or those who have come to Latvia during the last 5 years are taken into consideration.
Firstly, it should be said that persons who have immigrated for the employment purposes in both categories – highly qualified and other workers – arrive from the same countries. It is clear that most often countries of origin are the countries in our region – Belarus, Russia, Lithuania, Ukraine. From the next diagram it is clear by the number of temporary residence permits issued for the first time that the only country the number of qualified employees from which has increased significantly during the last years is India – in 2017 the number of immigrants from India was 19 persons, but in 2018 – 119 persons. Among other employed persons the number of arrivals from Ukraine has increased most rapidly. At the same time, it should be noted that the portrait of immigrants is characterised by increasing diversity each year.
It should be noted that regardless of the fact that everyone, who arrives for the purpose of qualified employment, has suitable education and satisfies the specific immigration criteria, it does not mean that the rest of employed immigrants have low qualification. From third country nationals – employees who arrived in Latvia in 2017 two thirds or 66 % had higher education, professional or vocational education. However, like with emigration of Latvian nationals economically motivated migration forces one to accept employment that does not always correspond to the acquired qualification. Yet the type of their employment in Latvia along with the perceived pressure on the Latvian labour market and remuneration policy presents this group of immigrants as less desirable or even as a problem.
Actually, only 16 % of population of Latvia regard immigration from non-EU countries as an opportunity and 24 % more as an opportunity and a problem at the same time. Most of the respondents, however, regard immigration as a problem and do not see the possible contribution to the economy and growth of Latvia. It complicates smart immigration processes or the stay of qualified specialists in Latvia, who are regarded as a part of the ‘desired’ immigration movement because Latvian societys attitude is negative and that produces direct and indirect manifestations of discrimination. A low level of social tolerance and openness is one of TOP4 factors in making a decision about moving to a particular country of town.
"Negative sentiments in the society lower competitiveness of Latvia also with regard to those immigrants who, in our opinion, are welcome here."
Present understanding of migration in the society presents a challenge with regard to making of a sound immigration and integration policy, because the political discourse about people whose skills are and could be useful in various sectors of economy of Latvia in the future, continues to strengthen and legitimise the division into desirable or good and undesirable or bad immigrants, even if their origins are similar. Nevertheless a sound and balanced integration policy must be created and implemented for starters so that the reflection of its results would promote a gradual change of public sentiments too. In a situation on Latvian labour market where labour from other countries is already hired, it is rather short-sighted to continue categorising people who have already arrived here as less desirable or as a problem.
"People who have come to Latvia to work are already here, therefore it is especially important to promote a humane and inclusive environment."
Taking into account the origins of labour immigrants it is possible that their occupation and qualification remains invisible in everyday interaction. In addition, their present occupation does not always correspond their qualification. Thus designating immigrants as ‘desirable’ and ‘undesirable’ is not always fair, because such a designation is based only on a snapshot of this moment, if at all. In policy-making context such designations create a kind of vicious circle, where the terms used legitimise such division also in the eyes of the society, but public sentiment is used as an excuse to create a certain policy.
Various categories of immigration exist and will continue to exist, however, various lawful immigration categories should not be connected to the desirability of these persons. We will not always be able to assess reasons persons have had to leave their previous domicile, but we can measure contribution of such persons to the Latvian society, and create circumstances to increase it. That would be smart and desirable immigration and integration policy.
- +Ilkhom Khalimzoda. Are you confused about integration and assimilation? 13.12.2017.
I was once invited to a panel discussion as an immigrant living in Latvia who could share some knowledge and learn from others about migration in general. Foreign experts from several European countries, policy makers and politicians from Latvia were among the panelists. I was prepared for a short talk about my activism as an advocate for promotion of the integration of third country nationals living in Latvia, who are from the same culture or geographic area as myself. However, I was decided to change the content of my speech while I was listening to one of the speakers of the panel we shared. The reason was the usage of the word ‘assimilation’ by a politician giving speech about immigrants. He said: “Immigrants must be assimilated here so that we can live in harmony”. In my view, he was using the understading of integration as assimilation which is misleading, intentional or not. Many of us are aware that we are living in the information age. We receive tons of information every day, and we all hear about integration and assimilation primarily from politicians, policy makers, academics, journalists and etc.. These two important words are among the most heard but least understood, in my opinion. To assimilate or integrate may be individuals’ choice, but I changed my topic to tackle this terminological issue right there since the definition he used was not one for assimilation, and the strategy I used to go through, as an immigrant, is called integration. That is the motivation behind this short article which reflects on my brief description of the crucial words we are used to hear so often.
Integration vs Assimilation
There is evidence that during the course of the period of major acculturation, individuals explore various strategies, eventually settling on one that they find more useful and satisfying (Kim, 1988). Many modern acculturation theories claim that ethnic minorities (including aboriginal natives, immigrants, refugees, and sojourners) can favour either the dominant culture, or their own minority culture, or both, or neither
When we are talking about immigrants’ way of interaction, and in what forms they reside in host country, there are several strategies or models to go through. According to John W. Berry, Professor Emeritus from Queen’s University, when individuals do not wish to maintain their cultural identity and seek daily interaction with other cultures, the Assimilation strategy is selected. In contrast, when individuals place a value on holding on to their original culture, and at the same time wish to avoid interaction with others, then the Separation alternative is selected. When there is an interest in both maintaining one’s original culture while maintaining daily interactions with other groups, Integration is the option; here some degree of cultural integrity is preserved at the same time seeking to participate as an integral part of the larger social network. Finally, when there is little interest in having relations with others, often for reasons of exclusion or discrimination, it is called Marginalisation.
Integration can only be freely chosen and successfully pursued by non-dominant groups when the dominant society is open and inclusive in its orientation towards cultural diversity (Berry, 1991).
Nevertheless, the term is sometimes wrongly used instead of assimilation, as exemplified by a common expression such as “he is very much acculturated to . .. ” implying “he is very much assimilated into . . . ” a given society or culture. In recent years, while many countries have come to acknowledge the “un-workable” nature of assimilation as a general settlement policy principle(Berry, Poortinga, Segall & Dasen, 2002), together with increased growth in global migration, there has been a proliferation of new terms such as “biculturalism,” “multiculturalism,” “integration,” “re-socialization” and “ethnic identity.”
Berry (1990,1997, 2003), on the other hand, regards assimilation to be one of four strategies an individual may use during the acculturation process. Berry defined “assimilation” to be the situation where either (i) an individual turns his back on his original cultural background and identity, and chooses to identify and interact with the members of the host society, or (ii) the host society expects foreigners to adapt wholly to the culture of the larger national society. Assimilation on the other hand, is unidirectional in its influence (i.e., a host group unilaterally exerts some influence on another group). From a sociological perspective, Simons (1901) regarded acculturation to be a two-way process of “reciprocal accommodation.” She nevertheless equated the word to the English term “assimilation” and defined “assimilation” as the process of adjustment or accommodation which occurs between the members of two different races giving rise to the synonymous use of the terms.
“Assimilation” and “acculturation” have from the outset been regarded as synonymous even though they come from two different social science disciplines. While anthropologists preferred to use the term “acculturation” sociologists preferred to use the term “assimilation.” Furthermore, anthropologists’ use of the term “acculturation” was primarily concerned with how so-called “primitive” societies changed to become more “civilized” following cultural contact with an enlightened group of people. On the other hand, sociologists’ use of the term “assimilation” or “acculturation” was more directed towards “immigrants” who, through contact with the “host nationals”, gradually conformed to the ways of life of the host society.
The goals of diversity and equity maintenance strategy correspond closely to the integration and multiculturalism strategies (combining cultural maintenance with inclusive participation), whereas the push for uniformity resembles the assimilation and so called ‘melting pot’ approach (see Berry, 1984).
For example, integration involves two positive strategies. Newcomers try to adjust to the cultural norms of the host society but keep their values and some of the native signs and symbols. Marginalisation involves two negative strategies, both towards native and towards hosting society, while assimilation involve one positive orientation towards host society and another negative towards newcomers. Separation involve one positive strategy - towards person’s native culture and negative relationship with host society.
This has been studied, for example, in the case of Indian immigrants to the USA (Krishnan & Berry, 1992) and Third World immigrant youth in Norway (Sam & Berry, 1995); and elsewhere. After working with a variety of immigrant groups in Germany, Schmitz (1992:368) concluded : “The findings suggest that integration seems to be the most effective strategy if we take long term health and well-being as indicators.” Similarly, with regard to identity, positive psychological outcomes for immigrants tend to be related to a strong identification with both their ethnic group and the larger society (Phinney & Liebkind). Thus, integration seems to be negatively correlated with neuroticism, aggressiveness, impulsivity, anxiety and field-dependence, and positively correlated with extraversion, emotional stability, sociability, agreeableness, sensation seeking and open-mindedness. Assimilation showed positive correlations with agreeableness and sociability, but also with neuroticism, anxiety, closed-mindedness and field-dependence. (Kosic, 2005). I am encouraging readers to promote integration in our societies and work hand to hand to decrease other options such as assimilation, marginalisation and separation to have inclusive and diverse society.
A. Kosic, L. Mannetti, and D. Lackland. The role of majority attitudes towards out-group in the perception of the acculturation strategies of immigrants. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 29 (2005), 273–288.
D. Parisi, F. Cecconi, and F.Natale. Cultural change in spatial environments: the role of cultural assimilation and internal changes in cultures. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 47/2 (2003), 163-179.
John W. Berry. Immigration, Acculturation, and Adaptation. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 46/1 (1997), 5-68.
J.S.Phinney, K. Liebkind. Immigrant groups in Germany. The Society for Psychological Study of Social Issues, (2001), 493-510.
Kim, Y.H. Review of Cultural Psychology. Journal of Social Psychology, 150/
- +Ilkhom Khalimzoda. Another Type of Asylum Seekers. 26.09.2017.
Europe is facing mass movement of asylum seekers from various countries. This has been referred to as ‘refugee crises’ and commonly explained as a consequence of wars around the Globe. Majority of asylum seekers in Europe are indeed running from war, terrorism, poverty, governmental oppression or in individual cases, from persecution, compulsory military service, social exclusion, and discrimination. Latvia has seen asylum seekers from many corners of the world including Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iran, Ukraine, Russian Federation, and Syria as well as many other countries. This short essay aims to put light on asylum seekers from an EU candidate country which is also a member of the Council of Europe.
Who are these people?
There is a new type of asylum seekers who are neither Syrian, Eritrean nor come from any other conventionally perceived countries of migrant departure. Since 2014, the number of Turkish asylum seekers in EU, and also in other countries, is fast growing.   These individuals are running from mass arrest warrants that had been launched against them. Some of them have been subjected to detention or wanted by the current authorities. These people come from the best educated, experienced, and hardworking layers of the Turkish population which had generated since 1960’s, and primarily are journalists, military officials, civil servants, school teachers, entrepreneurs, academics and many other professionals. 
Why are they seeking asylum?
Due to the rise of criticism against the Turkish authorities, Turkish state has been transferred to defense mode to protect the elites who have been involved in mass corruption scandals. This policy has resulted in mass dismissals, arrests, persecutions, and shutting down of thousands of schools, hundreds of media outlets, and many universities as well as holdings, banks and businesses that belonge to the critics of the current ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). According to the Amnesty International report of 2017, 55,000 people have been arrested, more than 100,000 public sector workers annihilated, and many were subject to rape and torture in jails.  Due to this ongoing mass crackdown, citizens who had been directly affected by the above mentioned incidents are trying to flee and seek asylum abroad. However, not all of them were able to flee the country as their passports had been cancelled or they face travel restrictions. Despite this fact many still try to flee the country illegally or by the help of state officials for large sums paid in cash. 
Where are they asking for asylum?
So far around thirty Turkish citizens have applied for asylum in the Baltic States, more than four hundred in Sweden, more than five hundred in Germany, more than one thousand in Japan, and many in other countries.   
Specifics of this group of asylum seekers
In most cases, they are highly educated and skilled professionals in their home society. Many of them have the experience of living aboard, and are familiar with European societies and cultures in one way or another. Within this group of asylum seekers, one can observe small but crucial differences. While majority of them have already been travelling and had lived abroad there is also a minority among who don’t have much or any earlier travel and living abroad experience which possibly resulted from confidence of living in their comfort zone back in their country and deficiency of cross-cultural interactions. From the point of acculturation, it is a disadvantage when asylum seekers are waiting to go back when the situation improves in their home country and therefore do not concentrate on learning the local language, lack motivation, and miss interaction with the host society members which impedes the integration process.
However, the majority of those with travel and living abroad experience have been noted as productive type of immigrants in their host society, and usually they speak more languages than their compatriots. These asylum seekers are strongly motivated to start a new life, help other asylum seekers, and are committed to integrate into their new society. Many of them have already managed to find a place to work or are running their own businesses in their host societies and thus create more workplaces.  
There are always two sides to a coin. As communication specialist say, we need at least two sides to make the truth. We have heard a lot speculation and negativity against asylum seekers and immigrants in general. This article is an attempt to raise awareness about number of different aspects concerning the identity of the asylum seekers and the circumstances under which they seek asylum here. Such stories are perhaps a window through which understanding may arrive.
- +Agita Misāne. 3rd meeting of the European Migration Forum in Brussels
The European Migration Forum met already for the third time in early March - on 2nd and 3rd of March - in Brussels. Approximately 120 representatives from the non-governmental organizations of the European Union (EU) and neighbouring countries, representatives from the EU Member State institutions, regions and local governments participated in the event which was opened by Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs.
The key issue of the forum was a transition from the "crisis management" to the long-term overall strategy in the EU migration policy. A number of speakers emphasized that migration is a normal process, people have always moved from their places of origin to another place of residence. It should be also understood that migration is not a crime and this applies not only to forced migration such as escaping from the war zone, but also to migration in order to find better economic conditions and employment. The EU in general and each Member State individually always have had their own migration policies, however, it should be also admitted that the arrival of the large number of asylum seekers in Europe in recent years means that these policies should be reviewed in part and improvements and new solutions are required for a number of areas. Thus, the main directions of the forum could be described in a single sentence: "Keep the useful things that are working, and develop new strategies where they are necessary."
On 20 July 2015, twenty-seven EU Member States, as well as Island, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland agreed to place in their territories more than 22,000 displaced persons from the third countries which have an obvious need for international protection. Currently, in general, only 0.003% of the European population are refugees, however, this small amount is not evenly distributed across the whole continent, besides, there is no reason to think that the number of asylum seekers will decrease in the near future. Some Member States have received asylum seekers for years, however, the EU displacement programme which is the result of the above agreement is the first common and jointly coordinated project for all the EU Member States. Thus, the participation in this programme is not just a solution of the "refugee crisis", as it is commonly referred to in the media, but also the issue of the EU solidarity. Those Member States which signed the agreement, but still in practice refuse to receive asylum seekers, can face not only reproach from the other Member States, but also sanctions in future.
Displacement per se is only a part of the tasks which have to be dealt with by the European communities, it is also necessary to provide basic services for the persons which have recently arrived in the particular countries, as well as we should also think about the future - taking the asylum seekers back to their countries of origin once the crisis there is over, or about their integration in the new home countries if they want to stay there. A number of speakers emphasized that the European countries, where a serious labour shortage is expected in ten or twenty years, is directly interested in a significant number of immigrants staying in Europe and their integration in the labour market. National institutions alone can not do all the necessary things either in the area of service provision or wider integration, therefore intensive involvement of the non-governmental organizations is required.
Discussions in forum`s plenary meetings and work groups focused on three groups of questions. First, safe and legal asylum seeker migration process. It is no secret that a large part of migration from the Middle East is controlled by human traffickers - it is life threatening, and more than a half of the migrants does not reach Europe at all. 90% of the migrants have paid to the traffickers. Migration is a reality, and it should be legal, safe, not degrading human dignity and not restricting human rights.
Secondly, a lot of attention was paid to the questions of providing the basic services (housing, employment, education, health and social services) to the immigrants. In practice, a scope of services which the immigrants can have is directly related to their residence status. As it changes, their communication with the service providers also changes. Therefore, both a coordinated operation of service providers and awareness of service users are important. The problems in this area are observed in a number of Member States further resulting in a source of social tension. It was pointed out in the forum that one of the most important prerequisites of a successful integration was cooperation among all services, local governments and non-governmental organizations involved. Rendering of services, of course, is expensive, however, it should be regarded as an effective, long-term investment, as it should pay off in terms of economy at least because a taxpayer base is being enlarged - assuming that immigrants will be fully involved in the labour market, as well as will use the services provided by the local providers (for example, language teaching specialists, apartment landloards, etc.) The situation in Latvia in this respect is far from the optimum as it is no secret - majority of the displaced persons has left the country and will not become the new taxpayers in the future.
Thirdly, an important theme of the forum was social climate and presentation of the migration theme in media and generally in the public space. This issue often is accompanied by anxiety. Won`t the immigrants take our jobs? Won`t they live at our expense? Won`t they threaten our cultural identity? While the asylum seekers worry whether they will we be accepted in the home country? Will it be safe there? Such concerns are understandable, they should not be ignored, rather they should be discussed. However, it is easy to manipulate with them and the increase of populism in the European policy is the most obvious testimony of this. There is no better way for settling mutual concerns as information. The framework of the migration regulations and the EU policy should be explained, only true and accurate facts should be presented, besides it should be done on a regular basis and often. Stereotypes and myths of all parties involved should be dispelled. A closer contact allowing to know each other better, as well as explanatory work in both directions are proved tools to build mutual trust. Finally, today`s "immigration challenge" for the European communities can be expressed in a simpler formula: "If you have accepted - involve! If you have arrived - be ready to participate!"
This publication has been made in the framework of the project “Information Centre for Immigrants”. The Project co-financed by the European Union within the framework of the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund.Grant Agreement No.PMIF/12/2016/1/1.
- +Agita Misāne. Are the "third countries" and the "third world countries" one and the same? 27.12.2016.
There are only a few terms that are more confusing than those two. That`s why we often hear also from the clients - the third country nationals - the following: "How can I be a "third country national", if I am not from the underdeveloped country!" It`s a pity if such a lack of understanding deprives this target group of the free services available exactly for it. Let`s correct this situation by explaining the meaning of these terms.
What are the "third countries" and the "third country citizens/nationals"?
A term "third country" is an economically neutral term which is used in the context of migration of people displacement. It has nothing to do with the economic and cultural development level of the country of origin. Such countries as New Zealand, Canada, Honduras, Russia, Japan or Nigeria are the "third countries" for the population of Latvia. In the European Union (EU) this term covers all countries which are not the EU Member States or the participants of the European Economic Area (apart from the EU, it includes also Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein), or Switzerland. To put it simply - for us Latvia is the "first country", the above countries of the EU, European Economic Area and Switzerland are the "second countries" - we are connected to them with special contractual relationships, and all the others are the "third countries". Perhaps, it does not sound very good, however, this is the legal origin of this term.
The "third country" is a term used also in relation to the consular services - a procedure for issuing a tourist visa in cases it is necessary to enter another (the "second") country, when a person is not in his or her own (the "first") country. It can happen, for instance, if there is no embassy or consulate of this country in Latvia. Then one should take his or her travel document (usually - a passport) to the "third" country where is a consulate of the state he or she wants to visit. It may happen that the route changes while being already outside Latvia. Then there is no choice but to look for the closest embassy or consulate of the respective country.
The "third world country" means something completely different.
Who are the nationals of the "third world countries"?
A concept the "third world" was created by the French anthropologist and demographer Alfred Sauvy in 1952. It can be found in his article "Three worlds, one planet" published in the magazine L’Observateur in the edition of August 14 of the same year. In the early fifties it was clear that planet`s political, economic and also military order after the World War II had changed significantly as the two opposite systems became stronger. They evolved already earlier - approximately during the first decades of the twentieth century, when a part of the world underwent rapid industrialization, often also at the expense of their own colonies and their natural resources. They maintained a rapid pace of industrial development also in the second half of the twentieth century, however, the colonies were gradually lost. In the first half of the century, after 1917, some countries such as the USSR and the People`s Republic of China with a completely different economic model were also established. They also underwent industrialization, however, they had a centrally planned economy and their dominant and only official ideology was communistic. After the World War II a range of USSR`s satellite countries joined this system which officially were called "socialistic republics" or "people`s republics".
Sauvy then also called those two systems the "first" and the "second world", accordingly. However, he also noticed that not all countries can fit in this model - neither in terms of their economy or politics. The "third world" also existed. Sauvy did not treat these countries which did not fit in this model of two economic and ideological system with contempt at all. It could be said - on the contrary, he was concerned that their interests are not sufficiently represented and defended. "After all, the ignored, exploited, scorned third world also wants to be heard", he wrote. The term created by Sauvy was widely used both in journalism and academic texts. Although, this division was not completely consequent and unmistakable. Some included all so called "uncommitted states" or those which did not join NATO or Warsaw Pact, or other military blocks in the "third world country" group. Thus, also such economically highly developed countries as Sweden, Finland or Austria. Others used a geographical principle calling every country which was Southwards from the USA and Europe the "third world". Yet others held to economic criteria calling the countries where traditional agriculture still prevailed and where also a sharp economic inequality still existed the "third world countries". In fact, as popular as it could be, the term "third world countries" was not successful already from the very beginning. It is even more problematic now when the communistic system collapsed in Europe. Also economic dynamics are different. Which "world" officially communistic but economically probably capitalistic superpower China belongs to?
The "third world countries" is a concept which is still used, now it is also used alongside with a term "new industrialization countries" when relating to such countries as Brazil, Mexico and especially "Asian tigers" Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea, which economic development now is faster than that of other European countries. However, the "third world" problems are the same as they were fifty years ago: poverty, low average life expectancy and education level, gender inequity, non-sufficient health care and high corruption, sometimes also political instability. Besides, globalization processes have been unfair to those countries, their debts have increased.
Therefore, no wonder that the "third world country" may seem a scornful term. I think that we should completely avoid using it, however, in any case remember that the "third world" and "third countries" are two different things.
This publication has been made in the framework of the project “Information Centre for Immigrants”. The Project co-financed by the European Union within the framework of the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund.Grant Agreement No.PMIF/12/2016/1/1.
- +Mohammed Giga. What is or is not Islam? 15.12.2016.
We live in troubled times for the humanity due to intensified manifestations of violence and terrorism, which some people try to associate with religion, including Islam. Indeed, the Islamic Law (Sharia) urges us to further benefaction and counter the evil. However, religious commitment and devotion are not extremism, cruelty, backwardness or fanaticism. The Almighty bestows prosperity and good fortune upon those who uphold His Law regardless of the time and location of any one of them.
Islam has always countered terrorism and extremes as evidenced by Hadith (account) of the words of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, meaning: "Beware of going to extremes in religion for those before you have perished because of extremes in religion."
The ideology of extremism and terrorism is an ideology of particular persons and groups. They disseminate their destructive ideology in the society, EVEN IF THEY DO NOT PERFORM THE CRIMES THEMSELVES, and falsely represent their corrupted ideology directed against the humankind as the true Islamic teaching.
TRUTH MUST BE EXPLAINED, regretfully, in these times there are not many people who are able to expose the destructive, subversive ideologies, upon which false comprehension is based and which lead to lies and substitution of values, blurring the lines between good and evil, truth and misconception in religious matters.
One of key reasons leading to attacks on Islam and Muslims is a number of false fatwās (legal opinions) made by BOGUS PREACHERS – ADEPTS OF THE EXTREMIST IDEOLOGY. To these people attacking Islam refer to. These fatwās feed extremist ideologies and have a global impact on goings-on in the entire Muslim world. It takes place against the background of ignorance and a few theologians (Islamic scholars), who have experienced deeply the Truth.
There are honourable scholars who have filled this world with authentic knowledge and experience. The greatest Imams (leaders) "Ahlus-Sunnah Wal-Jama`ah (the people of the sunnah and the community of the followers of the true teaching of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon Him)" have produced great writings containing clear answers and unquestionable evidence against misguided movements and sects trying to introduce into Islam novelties that contradict to Sharia, distort its essence. AS ONE OF THE AFOREMENTIONED IMAMS BADRUDDIN AZ-ZARKASHI HAS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK "Tasnif al-Masami": "Truly, THE RIGHTEOUS IMAMS are obliged to confront those who disseminate novelties not supported by the religion."
NOWADAYS EXTREMISTS USE RELIGION TO DECEIVE REGULAR PEOPLE, especially the weak and uninformed. The number of people with religious education has significantly decreased in the world during the last decades, AND TRUE RELIGIOUS ENLIGHTENERS HAVE BEEN SUPERSEDED BY SPECIALLY TRAINED SECTARIAN PREACHERS. THUS PEOPLE WHO ARE UNABLE TO DISCERN AUTHENTIC INFORMATION FROM SECTARIAN ADDITIONS AND CRAVE ISLAMIC KNOWLEDGE are filled with extremist views and attitudes by extremist organisations and terrorists and recruited by them on a massive scale.
What is the way out of this situation?
It is possible to counter the ideological incursion of extremists causing rupture and chaos in the Muslim community. Though to achieve any success two parallel directions must be worked on:
• first of all, people must be given the true knowledge of ISLAM *, the knowledge carefully preserved by previous generations of believers;
• secondly, one must beware of misconceptions propagated by different sects, including those that identify themselves as Islamic centres and organisations.
ONLY GENERAL COMMITMENT AND CONSOLIDATED EFFORT WILL ENABLE US TO COUNTER AND QUENCH THE PHENOMENON NAMED "TERRORISM", WHICH AFFECTS THE ENTIRE WORLD COMMUNITY NOWADAYS.
*Islam is an Arabian term, which denotes the religion all Prophets and Messengers of God adhered to. Islam is faith in, worship of One God according to Sharia (i.e. the Law of God).
Islam is not a new religion: all Prophets and Messengers had one Faith, the same beliefs, they all urged people to believe in One God and follow His Law, i.e. they called upon people to join Islam. Islam is also the religion of Angels, practised by them before the creation of humankind.
Prophets and Messengers came from different nations. Since the last of the Prophets was an Arab, religious terms in Arabian have got widespread use all over the world: "halāl" ("permissible"), "haram" ("forbidden"), "Islām" (submission to One God), "Sharia" (the Law of God) a.o.
Muslims believe in Allah. Allah is the name of the Almighty, which in Arabian and in other languages means "God". Unfortunately some people who speak the word "Allah", do not understand its essence and believe in something else, which they call God.
Muslims accept and believe that God is the Only Creator and everything has been created by Him. What does "created by God" mean? It means that before creation there was nothing but God, He existed and His Existence is eternal and without beginning.
Allah does not resemble His creatures. He differs from everything by the Essence, Attributes and Deeds. The Creator does not resemble anything one could imagine. This is what Muslims believe. Muslims say that God does not need anything, is not confined to one place, does not reside anywhere, because He existed before all creation and after creating everything continues to exist without any change, without passing from one state of existence into another. God does not resemble any of His creation.
Muslims say the following about Prophets: Muslims believe without any doubt in all Prophets, from the first – Prophet Adam - to the last — Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon them, including Prophets Musa (Moses) and Isa (Jesus), Ibrahim (Abraham), Nuh (Noah) and the rest. Approximately 124 thousand Prophets have been sent in total.
Muslims must believe in all Prophets and love them without any exceptions. Muslims say: "Isa, the son of Maryam" in English is "Jesus, the son of Mary", and the same man is meant. This applies to other Prophets as well, for example: Musa – Moses, Ibrahim – Abraham, Nuh – Noah etc.
Prophets urged people to believe in One God, all of Them were Muslims by Faith. The only difference between them was that at different times in history different Sharias (Laws of God) were in force, and believers were required to uphold the Law of their time. All Muslims believe that Adam and Hawwaa (Eve), peace be upon Them, were the first human beings, and all the rest are their children, their descendants. Allah gave to Prophet Adam Sharia (Laws), which were in force in those days. With the arrival of new Messengers Laws of God concerning rituals could change (for example, the number of required prayers (salahs) in a day changed, changes occurred in matters related to fasting-days, marriage ceremony etc.). Some laws apply at all times in history, for example: do not take any human being`s life, do not steal, do not deceive, do not commit adultery. However, in regard to the postulates of faith, regardless of the number of Prophets sent at different times in history, They all urged people to believe in One God.
Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon Him, said: "The best words uttered by me and all Prophets before me are: "lā ilāha illā llāh" ("There is no god but One God")".
Muslims who lived during the time of Prophet Musa (Moses), peace be upon Him, recognised all Prophets before Him and said: "lā ilāha illā llāh wa Musa rasūlu llāh" ("There is no god but One God and Moses is the Messenger of God"). Muslims who lived during the time of Prophet Isa (Jesus), peace be upon Him, said: "lā ilāha illā llāh wa Isa rasūlu llāh" ("There is no god but One God and Jesus is the Messenger of God"). We recognise and love all Prophets who came before Muhammad, peace be upon Him, and say: "lā ilāha illā llāh wa Muḥammadun rasūlu llāh" ("There is no god but One God and Mohammad is the Messenger of God"). The one who does not believe in or does not love even one of the Prophets, is not a Muslim. If somebody says that he believes in One God and all Prophets, but wants to abide by the Law of Prophet Adam, that is not acceptable in our time: in our days another Law of God is in force, therefore a believer in One God is obliged to abide by the Sharia of Prophet Muhammad, the last Messenger of God, peace be upon Him, otherwise he contradicts the Laws given by the Almighty.
Who believes fervently and has recited: "There is no god but One God and Muhammad is the Messenger of God", or other words with the same meaning, becomes a Muslim.
All Prophets proclaimed that there will be the Day of Judgement, when everyone will be held responsible for their actions, words and convictions, and they proclaimed to people the existence of Paradise and hell. We do not know when a man will die: it could happen in a year or in a minute. A man could die a disbeliever and go to hell for eternity. May each one of us take care and preserve Faith until the end of one`s days, die with Faith and abide in Paradise for all eternity.
- +Agita Misāne. What is multiculturalism and should one be afraid of it? 19.09.2016.
"Multiculturalism" is also one of such concepts, although it should be admitted that its epithets are not as acrimonious as they used to be in the first half of 2008, when the arguments whether the integration policy of Latvia should be directed towards multiculturalism reached their apogee. Until then, the concept of multiculturalism was little known to the wider public, it was referred to almost only by the integration policy experts and professionals of social sciences, and there was no actual in-depth and serious discussions on the content of the concept itself even among them. Besides, there were no discussions also later. Cautious optimism, with which some of the integration experts had looked to multiculturalism, seeing there an opportunity for various ethnic communities of Latvia to get on and cooperate, was replaced by almost unanimous denial of an idea of multiculturalism. Its most fervent advocates kept simply silent. Moreover, in 2010, when German Chancellor Angela Merkel and a liitle bit later British Prime Minister of that time David Cameron acknowledged that the policy of multiculturalism has failed in their countries. Very heavy and pessimistic debates on the future of multiculturalism already for a number of years have been going on in the Netherlands - after the murder of film director Theo van Gogh. In the morning of 2 November 2004, he was murdered on the street by a Dutch and Moroccan dual citizen whose family has been living in the Netherlands already for the second generation. After a year, wide riots caused by immigrants took place in France.
What had exactly failed and could it happen differently? Multiculturalism is based on an optimistic ideology, it is the official policy of Canada and Australia respectively since 1971 and 1973. These two countries are considered as "success stories" of multiculturalism, although a lot of critical voices are heard also there both from politicians, and experts. What is this story about?
What exactly is multiculturalism?
All answers to this question are rather new. The concept "multiculturalism" is known already since the forties of the 20th century, it became popular in the sixties, but the most part of the analysis of this phenomenon was carried out in the nineties - the most optimistic decades of the multiculturalism policy, when it really seemed that it could function almost in all multicultural societies. Multiculturalism in its broadest meaning and also at the ideological level is recognition of cultural diversity and equivalence. Sometimes the concept is used when simply recognizing the multicultural nature of the society. At the same time, it is a political doctrine and a specific policy deriving from it envisaging specific political instruments to protect the said diversity and the interests of specific groups of society. The famous Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor calls multiculturalism "the politics of recognition". Multiculturalism may be described also as an anti-assimilation policy. According to it, it is worth paying for diverse society as it is value in itself. From the economic aspect, multiculturalism, even if it is successful in a sense that there are no commotions, is expensive, it takes significant financial investment to maintain it, and it is also one of the arguments used by the critics of multiculturalism.
In some ways, a sense of guilt and efforts to straighten out the things that can be corrected can also be seen in the doctrine of multiculturalism. Already mentioned Canada and Australia are the states where the native inhabitants have been oppressed for a long time, their land was taken away and natural resources were plundered, depriving native inhabitants of adequate medical care and education, persecuting their traditional culture and languages. Multiculturalism was if not an official then the practised policy in the former colonial power states such as Great Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, etc., the largest part of the immigrants comes to these countries from their former colonies.
Practical policy instruments for recognition of the uniqueness of these ethnic groups and for a long-term injustice prevention are different. For example, granting a specific status to their languages at the regional or national level, recognition of dual citizenship, a specific economic framework for specific territories, quotas in the representation authorities and educational system, especially in case of vulnerable groups, recognition of contribution of various ethnic groups, for example, in school programs, inclusion of traditional holidays in the official holiday calendars, specific programs for protection of specific cultures and social integration. A lot of states have complicated regulatory mechanisms to protect the rights of religious minorities; they get even more complicated if the particular practice contradicts national legislation or social norms. The recent cases are the ones which often cause the most acrimonious debates and elegant legal solutions. Disputes whether it should be allowed for the Sikhs not to use the skidlids which can not be put on the compulsory turbans of this religious community and whether Muslim women are allowed to cover their faces in the public places and to put on so called burkini swimsuits when swimming are not the most complicated examples in this sense. As we see, multiculturalism is as much a story about the cultures as the concept itself shows it as (and probably even more) a story about legal theory and practice.
No wonder why a lot of people tend to think along the following lines - if so much is done on behalf of the particular ethnic groups, why then "they" are not satisfied anyway, why is it not enough for them? - and this opinion is also often enough heard in the public space. There are political parties and individual politicians and opinion leaders who take advantage of it. During the resent years the growing popularity of the right-wing radical parties is the most convincing evidence.
Multiculturalism and the instruments related to the above policy have been attributed most often historically to ethnic, also religious diversity. In recent years, individual theorists tend to expand it when it comes to an inclusive equal society model which includes not only the rights, but also representation, envisaging special protection for the groups, which have been discriminated for a long time in other aspects. Mostly, it emphasizes racial, gender and sexual orientation diversity. Although an anti-discrimination policy is sufficiently developed practically in all industrially developed societies, in reality both women and people with a darker skin colour receive in many places lower salaries, have lower education and income, they are more often unemployed and suffer from violence. Their opinions are also not equally taken into consideration, and still in some places they are considered as imperfect and less valuable beings. The above tendency raises both political and academical discussions whether multiculturalism is a part of the anti-discrimination policy or probably vice versa?
Repeated actualization of multiculturalism topic during the recent years is clearly linked to the migration crisis, especially in Europe. What consequences will be there after larger amounts of immigrants belonging to different cultures enter Europe where so far by no means all countries were able to find successful integration models? Therefore, most likely we`ll have to come back again and again to reflection on pros and cons of multiculturalism.
Is it possible to have a successful multiculturalism model?
What can facilitate implementation of the multiculturalism policy and what can lead to its failure? Theoreticians and analysts emphasize several significant aspects.
First of all, national borders and the situation of their protection. If people do not feel external threats, integration of society is state`s internal matter and assignment. In that case, we can really speak of integration as of unity of society. The situation is completely different if the state neighbours with a military stronger state which says that it wants only to protect its countrymen which amounts to a numerically significant minority in your country. It is also different if it is easy to overstep the border and immediately a large number of people is behind it which could overstep it because they do not have any other choice.
Secondly, multiculturalism has to be real, it functions better if there are several cultures. It does not work in two-community countries, as well as in cases when almost all immigrants come from one region of the world or even from one country. This practically always leads to polarization of society and collision of interests. Real diversity of cultures is a balancing factor.
Thirdly, a doctrine of multiculturalism envisages equal contribution of various groups to economic gross product or at least fair efforts to achieve it. If an opinion that "we sustain those others" exists in any part of society, it is a time bomb. It is also easy to manipulate with such an opinion.
Fourthly, one of the greatest risks in multicultural societies is isolation of cultures both geographically (for example, immigrants live in enclaves in the large European cities), and not coming out of one`s language, media and education space. It is clear that prevention of such situation takes both efforts and funds.
Fifthly, an agreement on human rights which is binding for all members of society. This is a sensitive issue as there are rather different views in traditional cultures of the individual value in general and especially of the rights, and it can not be quickly and easy to change them. However, if the society does not have a strong conviction that the rules of the game are the same for all, there will be no mutual trust which is one of the most significant preconditions for unity.
This summary list allows also to understand why multiculturalism was not a successful policy in Europe. Does it mean that this "project" has to be written off and forgotten? It will not be an easy task to do, the elements of multiculturalism - both positive and risky ones - still exist. Also in Latvia, where it never became a purposeful and planned policy. However, Latvia can learn from the mistakes of other European countries and those of the world in order not to repeat them.
This publication has been made in the framework of the project “Information Centre for Immigrants”. The Project co-financed by the European Union within the framework of the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund.Grant Agreement No.PMIF/12/2016/1/1.
- +Mārtiņš Kaprāns. Some Remarks on the Transnational Memory. 25.06.2014Some Remarks on the Transnational Memory
Researcher at the Philosophy and Sociology Institute of the University of Latvia (LU)
Newcomers arrive in a host country, bringing the story of their history with them. It is like invisible, intangible baggage, often stored with a lot of care that people take with them when leaving their birthplace. In these stories, autobiographical experience intertwines with collective memories; they are like palimpsests in which layers of personality, place of origin and national identity have left their imprints. However, when facing the cultural-historical landscape and traditions of the host country, immigrants are involuntarily reminded of their belonging to the country of origin or the receiving country, of the degree to which they are involved in or dissociated from the culture of the host country. Under such circumstances, a transnational memory space develops, in which the memory communities of newcomers and the host country interact with each other. Researchers studying the society have only relatively recently started paying attention to the phenomenon of the transnational memory, which can manifest itself in very different ways, ranging from an official national or international apology for harm done in the past to constructing a global memory. No matter how interesting I might find the versatile fields of transnational memory, the goal of the present article is to look at immigrant memory as a manifestation of the transnational memory. I would like to hope that these remarks will inspire readers to think about problems related to the memory of immigrant communities. Read more..
- +Ivars Indāns, Dr.demogr. Guest-workers: Latvias opportunities, benefits and interests. 02.06.2014Guest-workers: Latvias opportunities, benefits and interests
Ivars Indāns, Dr.demogr.Joining the European Union (EU) has been the most important event of the Latvias external and internal policy since the renewal of independence of the state. Latvias participation in the EU has changed and influenced economic, social and internal development of the state. One of the most visible phenomena supported by the EU is free movement of labour which in Latvias case meant rapid impact on demographical situation, namely, unpredictably high growth of international migration. As a result of massive emigration, Latvia has lost about 200 thousand inhabitants - of active labour in reproductive age. Taking into account the low birth rate, emigration facilitates depopulation of Latvia. Since 2008, when Latvia was hit by the financial crisis, the trend of emigration got stronger. While Latvia is losing labour at large-scale, it will be increasingly difficult to ensure GDP growth in the long-term − although it gradually resumed in the 2010 - on the account of export-oriented industries. Economic situation dictates the need for elaboration of migration policy, the basis of which was created in the period until Latvia joined the EU. Depopulation of Latvias inhabitants and negative migration rates inevitably raises the question of attracting labour from abroad. Read more..
- +Liesma Ose. Response to people who have come to Latvia to live, study and work. 30.05.2014
Response to people who have come to Latvia to live, study and work
“Do not decide anything that regards us without us” principle is very crucial to ensure successful implementation of any measure of creating opportunities
Handbook on integration, 2010
Leads: Previously, in November and December 2013, NIC introduced you with the opinion of a specialist of computer science, defender of human rights and student of MA programme on international human rights Mira Tsargand about problems and opportunities faced by the so-called third-country national in Latvia. Being grateful for the chance to interview Mira, I have made a promise to search for answers to her problematic questions. The present article will reveal what solutions are possible to the problems named by Mira — reduction and prevention of discrimination, as well as in the field of educational and political involvement — in Latvia, and what good examples we can learn in other, so-called “old migration countries” of the EU. Read more..
- +Mira Tsargand. Human rights of migrants in Latvia, are they fully implemented? 27.12.2013
Master of Social Sciences in Management
World is changing rapidly these days, and migration flows are chaotic and unpredicted due to globalization, characterized and sustained by economical development and crises, wars, natural disasters etc. Today more people than ever are living abroad. In 2013, 232 million people, or 3.2 per cent of the world’s population, were international migrants, in comparison with 175 million in 2000 and 154 million in 1990. Migration affects all continents, and many countries today are both countries of origin, transit and residence of migrants. A lot of migrants are moving between developing countries, about 40 percent of the total numbers of migrants in the world are moving to neighboring countries because of intercultural and other similarities.
Although we are living in the age of global development with the respect to the human rights of individuals, human rights of migrants are often violated. Different categories of migrants such as domestic workers, labour immigrants and low skilled labour migrants are involved in human trafficking, forced labor worldwide. Quite often migrants are facing discrimination, racism as well as challenges in the realization of migrants’ rights to health, adequate housing, adequate payment, realization of their social, political and cultural rights, nevertheless the human rights approach to migration pays particular attention to the situation of marginalized and disadvantaged groups of migrants. Such an approach is ensuring that migrants as a specific group are included in relevant national action plans and strategies, such as plans on the provision of public housing or national strategies to combat racism and xenophobia.
From above will be interesting to find out if Latvia is ready to respect social, political and cultural rights of migrants and their families the same as it does in case of the Latvian citizens? According to the US Department of State the government generally respects human rights in Latvia. It is ranked above average among the worlds sovereign states in democracy, press freedom, privacy and human development. The country has a large ethnic Russian community, which has basic rights guaranteed under the constitution and international human rights laws ratified by the Latvian government.
In 2004, the Council of the European Union established common principles for the integration of immigrants in the EU, stating that successful integration absolutely requires fundamental knowledge of the language, history and institutional structure of the host country. Approaches in this regard can essentially be divided up into two groups – fragmentary support for cultural orientation (voluntary educational courses, no links to the receipt of social support), and integration agreements (partly or fully mandatory courses and reduced social support for those who do not attend them). There are various legal norms that are called to the improvement of the third country national immigrants’ situation improvement and their inclusion into Latvian society. These apply to rules related to the admission of immigrants in Latvia, their economic participation or access to the labour market, their social security, anti-discrimination rules, education and political participation rights.
The situation of any foreigner in this regard is based on his or her legal status in Latvia. Third country nationals are benefiting access to various social areas if they have permanent residence permits. To get such a permit a third country national with a temporary residence permit must live in Latvia without interruption for at least five years, and he or she must also pass a state language exam.
The exception applies to foreign students, whose time in the country as students is not counted toward a permanent residence permit, or is counted only in half in case if the student will continue to live in Latvia after his or her studies due to some other reasons. However, a temporary residence permit offers only limited rights and access to different areas of social, economical and private rights. A foreigner who has come to Latvia from a third country and has a work based temporary residence permit has limited opportunities to the family reunification procedure. The law on immigration says that a foreigner can bring along his family for the period of time that he spends in Latvia himself, but the fact is that the family members are required to get an invitation from the foreigner’s employer. If the employer refuses family reunification is not possible. For a foreigner that is a spouse of someone who is a citizen of Latvia, a Latvian non-citizen, or a person who has received a permanent residence permit, the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs (OCMA) requires the entire listed document and an invitation prepared by spouse in Latvia.
Temporary residence permits are directly linked to the reason why the person is staying in Latvia. Such permits can be issued if someone has been hired for a job, if a family is being reunited, or if the person is a student. As soon as the foreigner has no longer a job, either gets divorced or stops being a student, he or she has to leave the country in a certain period of time.
In the case of employment the foreigner is linked to the company or organization that has hired him and foreigner has no right to get a different job on the basis of the current temporary residence and work permit. The ability of third-country nationals with temporary residence permits to access the labour market is limited, because the rules in this area are meant to protect the domestic labour market. Most third-country nationals can get jobs in Latvia only if recruited to do so by an employer, and it is on the basis of this invitation that the temporary residence permit and the work permit is issued. In such cases, the third country nationals are linked to a single employer. There are some particularly qualified professionals who don’t need an invitation to get a work and residence permit. All they need is a document, which speaks to the fact of their presence in Latvia . Protection of the local market is also what leads to the fact that the spouse of a third-country national with a temporary residence permit who comes to Latvia for family reunification gets a temporary residence permit only for that purpose – the spouse is not allowed to look for work. If the spouse wants to work, an invitation from an employer is needed, and the person has to undergo the whole procedure for seeking a temporary residence permit all over again.
The status of third country nationals who are in Latvia with an employment related temporary residence permit is unstable and very much dependent on the situation in the labour market. That’s because the temporary residence permit is linked to a work permit.
The situations with the work permits are a little bit different for highly skilled labour migrants. Since 1 of January 2012 there is additional option for third country national to get employed in Latvia as that European Blue Card Directive became in force. EU Blue Card is a temporary residence permit, which in the Republic of Latvia is issued to a third country national migrant in case if he has been considered highly qualified. A foreigner in the Republic of Latvia must do certain work under the direction of the employer. It is necessary that the employee had a higher education in study program, the length of which is in the relevant profession or industry referred to in the employment contract, is not less than three years. A foreigner has the rights to require temporary residence permit - blue card for a period of employment, but not longer than for five years. If the blue card of the European Union is requested for a period not exceeding one year, then the card is issued for a period of three months longer than the term of the employment contract. The minimum monthly salary for a blue cardholder must be not less than 668 Lats. According to the point 11.7 of rules of the Cabinet of Ministers “Rules regarding the amount of funds needed for a foreigner and order determining of the availability of funds”, in the case of a blue card, amount of salary must be at least a monthly gross salary in the Republic of Latvia in the previous year, applying the coefficient 1.5.The spouse of the blue cardholder is also allowed to work in the Republic of Latvia without additional work permit.
When it comes to business, the law on immigration states that third country nationals can come to Latvia as individual entrepreneurs or self-employed people, but in that case they have to prove to the OCMA that their business plans are sustainable and financially justified. Foreigners who want to set up shop or become self-employed must register with the Company Register as individual entrepreneurs or with the State Revenue Service as self-employed persons even before they seek a temporary residence permit. Foreigners in Latvia can also set up companies, but that is not an accepted reason for issuing a temporary residence permit.
However, investing to the economy, as well as buying real estate, is suitable for the wealthy people, who have an extra 280 thousand Lats (around 400 thousand euros) because there is a mandatory condition - to deposit this amount of money for a minimum of five years. It is not easy in case of the opening of representative offices of foreign companies as well, as that the authorized capital of the company should be 25 thousand Lats (more than 35 thousand euros). Although, there are some difficulties: in practice, only those entrepreneurs whose companies annually will pay at least 20 thousand Lats in taxes, will be able to obtain the residence permit. We are talking about companies whose annual profits are from 100 thousand Euros at least. These facts are closing the doors for start-up- ers and young companies without strong financial capacity.
In reality, the majority of the third country migrants are coming to Latvia because of the other reasons. According to the statistical data of the OCMA in 2012 there where 49 423 people from 70 different countries. Most of them – 55 % came to Latvia because of the family reunification reasons, 34% - for the employment and 6% of them to study in Latvia. As we see, these reasons are absolutely natural and all these people are obviously not rich enough to buy property and establish enterprises. Therefore it is very important to respect and guaranty their rights to health care, adequate housing, adequate payment, and realization of their social, political and cultural rights.
There is a paucity of data about the housing situations of migrants and the quality thereof, or about spatial segregation in cities that would make it possible to draft general policy guidelines. Existing information is mostly based on individual examples and unsystematic everyday observations. However the real estate market is pretty open (so far) for buyers and investors, but when it comes to renting the flats the owners don’t want to rent to migrants directly, so migrants must use the paid or prepaid services of the realtors. It makes the procedure more expensive and lengthy. According to the data of the Latvian Centre for Human Rights third country migrants are pretty often facing xenophobic manifestations while looking for suitable accommodation to rent. The owners are not willing to deal with foreigners, especially with Asian, Indian, or African descent. Moreover, there are cases when owners of the flats are not willing to deal with foreigners also they speak Latvian language perfectly.
The right to health care services is fundamental human right irrespective of citizenship, belonging to a social group, ethnicity, etc. Universal human rights mean that emergency medical services should be available to everyone, including illegal immigrants. When it comes to health care services for immigrants, there are no specific EU requirements – this is an issue that is primarily up to member states. Most approaches relate to the legality of a migrant’s presence in the country, as well as to the understanding and practice in the relevant country of the provision of health care services to all residents. Thus all residents of Latvia, including third country migrants, are having an access to the emergency medical services. Moreover, after receiving temporary or permanent residence permit the migrants should immediately provide OCMA with his or her health insurance details. The minimum requirements for health insurance are medical service in case of emergency, the treatment in in-patient clinic in case of the condition that is critical or dangerous for life, the transportation to the nearest medical establishment in both above mentioned cases, the transportation back to the home country in case of severe disease or death. The rest of medical services to be included in the insurance are up to the person. The insurance must be valid for all the period of staying in Latvia. In case of third-country nationals with temporary residence permits that are based on the fact of marriage to a Latvian citizen, non-citizen or permanent resident it is the same. But as soon as such foreigners receive their permanent residence permits, they have access to state-financed health care. However, all the persons benefiting from temporary residence permit in Latvia should pay for secondary medical assistance or include it into insurance.
The basic educational system has no theoretical or practical mechanisms for helping the children of immigrants to become included in the Latvian educational system. Not all schools have special classes for immigrant children. In practice, that is basically impossible, because there is a shortage of specially trained teachers. If a student is put into a lower grade than it should be in his or her country of origin, then it is very important to ensure support and encouragement, as well as an individual approach to avoid stigmatization. Sometimes a universal education system demands that the student demonstrate language skills, which means that some children cannot go to school right after they arrive in the new country. This demand is the autonomous decision of definite school or university, no law or other regulation states that.
Higher education is approachable for CIS (The Commonwealth of Independent States) students because of the relatively cheap price and relatively good quality of it. The biggest minus is the lack of social support for students regarding housing, healthcare, clear instructions regarding their rights and responsibilities, as well as the lack of general information. But the policy is well developed; nevertheless there are difficulties with implementation of it.
Third country citizens can take part in local government elections in Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Slovakia and Greece, but not in Latvia so far. Foreigners with temporary residence permits in Latvia are having limited opportunities for their political participation. They, like permanent residents and non-citizens, cannot vote in local municipality and parliamentary elections, and they cannot become involved in political organizations. It has to be noted that Latvian non-citizens who, in formal terms, have permanent residence permits and live their whole lives in Latvia are not allowed to vote in local government elections either.
Discrimination and racism
According to ECRI (European Commission against Racism and Intolerance) the increasing emigration of the Latvian labour force to other EU countries in recent years seems to have caused a shortage in the labour force in Latvia and a need to attract foreign workers. However, public surveys show that the general public in Latvia is rather reluctant and distrustful when asked about the influx of immigrants coming to work in Latvia. For instance in a recent survey, 70% of respondents admitted being negative towards the arrival of labour migrants from other countries. This negative attitude is worrying in a context whereby labour immigration is likely to increase due to the entry of Latvia into the European Union and the use of intolerant discourse by the media and politicians towards immigrants, particularly newcomers. Furthermore, immigrants belonging to visible minorities, for instance Africans or Asians, are vulnerable to racist violence. According to the ECRI recommendations, the Latvian authorities should reinforce their efforts to adopt an immigration policy, which contains measures to promote the integration of immigrants in Latvia, notably through combating stereotypes and prejudice among the general public against immigrants. The Latvian authorities should make sure that integration measures seek to foster mutual respect between immigrants and the general public, which must be made aware of the cultural enrichment and economic contribution resulting from immigration to Latvia.
From above we can conclude that the biggest challenges for third country immigrants in Latvia are lack of political opportunities, limited access to labour market and discrimination. Although Latvian migration policy is recognized as flexible, it lacks the experience regarding migration issues itself. Nevertheless Latvian migration policy is changing to attract more labour migrants and investors, notwithstanding political resistance, a lot of changes still must be implemented to insure nondiscrimination of newcomers. Within the "Third report on Latvia" adopted on 29 June 2007 ECRI has recommended to ratify as soon as possible the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, sadly it is not ratified still. In its "Forth report on Latvia", adopted on 9 December 2011 ECRI recommends that the authorities should ensure that the newly adopted Policy Guidelines for the Integration of Society in Latvia pave the way for a broad based program focusing on anti-discrimination, an open and integrated society and concrete measures to implement it.
 UN global migration statistics reveal http://esa.un.org/unmigration/wallchart2013.htm
 2009 Human Rights Report: Latvia http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/2009/eur/136040.htm
 Document 16054/04 of the Council of the European Union
 Immigrants in latvia: possibilities and conditions of inclusion http://www.biss.soc.lv/downloads/resources/imigrantu_integracija/Imigranti_EN.pdf
 «Izīrējam tikai kārtīgiem latviešiem»: vai Latvijā vērojama ksenofobija? http://www.apollo.lv/zinas/izirejam-tikai-kartigiem-latviesiem-vai-latvija-verojama-ksenofobija/562513
 Third report on Latvia http://www.libertysecurity.org/IMG/pdf_Latvia_20third_20report_20-_20cri08-2.pdf
 Responding to racism in Latvia http://cms.horus.be/files/99935/MediaArchive/pdf/latvia_en.pdf
- +Liesma Ose. Listening exercise: whether “we” know what “they” need? 12.12.2013
Listening exercise: whether “we” know what “they” need?
Prior to offering services to local inhabitants, during at least the last 10 years state and local governments have used to perform the so-called “needs assessment” to understand what are the issues important for people that should be included in the national or town’s development plan. This can result, for example, in a quite surprisingly finding that local seniors in fact do not need any day centre, since they are already quite good at socialising in the large pre-war built flat owned by Ms Alma’s at Ziediņu bulvāris and would use the financing of structural funds for construction of a new kindergarten. These assessments are also important so as to not offer painting classes to immigrants just arriving in Latvia instead of informal Latvian classes with topics of interest for them of sports classes in Latvian. It is good that the State sets certain indicators in immigrant integration — knowledge of Latvian, understanding of the local culture, in what extent should they be involved in training for the unemployed or integrated in the labour market. How to accomplish that? Should we ask ourselves or them?
My companion Mira Tsargand works with the association “Patvērums “Drošā māja”” and is in charge of migration, asylum seekers, and refugees’ affairs. Her competence covers also the topical issues of human trafficking: forced labour, prevention of sham marriages, and rehabilitation of victims. Prior to arriving to Latvia, Mira has worked with the organisation “La Strada — Ukraine”, and her duties were mainly related with issues related to sex slavery, sexual abuse of children, family violence, xenophobia, and racism. In Ukraine Mira has also worked under the mandate of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and as a local consultant at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Ukraine. She was born in Afghanistan, but emigrated with her family to Russia in 1989 as a political refugee. Specifics of the Russian migration policy forced the family to move to Ukraine in 1998. In 2002 whole family received the status of refugee, and three years later — citizenship of Ukraine. In Latvia, in parallel with her work, Mira graduated from the Entrepreneurship and Management Master’s Programme at Riga Technical University and is currently studying at Riga Graduate School of Law. Before that, she had acquired both Bachelor’s and Master’s level education in computer sciences in Ukraine.
What surprised you most when coming to Latvia?
I came to Latvia in winter on 17 December, I remember it just like it was yesterday. I was shocked by the cold — I was ready for a harsh winter like in Ukraine, but it was even colder here. I was charmed by the nature, although the scene in many places resembles Ukraine — forests here looks similar to me, but the charm of Latvian winter is very special, nonetheless.
Strangely, but I was surprised that public transport runs precisely, in line with the schedule — it is not like that in Ukraine. I found it unusual to pay for parking my car in the city, see ducks wandering in the Old Town, I was fascinated by the beauty of the historical centre of the city. It was difficult for me to get used to space and distance in Riga, and it took me some time to adapt to the local pace of life, resumed my time-management skills and regained the behaviour and self-expression typical for me — travelling from one culture to another I had been confused.
What was people attitude towards you on the street, at university, place of work?
It was complicated, in particular in everyday locations and situations — on the street, in transport. You meet many different people — Riga is not suffering from uniformity at all. The first conversation with a woman on street was a true learning lesson in a way. I approached her in Russian and tried to find out where can I find a shop somewhere nearby, but her reaction literary shocked me. I did not understand her speaking in Latvian, but felt hostile attitude. I decided that I have to learn Latvian as soon as possible, because I do not want to experience such negative emotions once again. During the coming months, a range of unpleasant cases of discrimination left marks in my mind and soul. And it was not at all because of not knowing Latvian.
Looking from aside, visual elements of discrimination of “the different ones” are obvious in everyday situations. Still quite often I feel myself uncomfortable and not wanted here. When dealing with state institutions complications aroused because I am a Ukrainian citizen, although I do not look like a typical Ukrainian. I am of Asian origin, and every time when applying for a social support or other kind of assistance I had to explain why I look like I do. I had to tell my complicated life story to just-met strangers.
I understand that it is part of immigration policy — the State has to clarify identity of immigrants. I have no objections to revealing information to the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs (PMLP) or other law enforcement institution, if it is related to state security issues or migration policy. I do not understand situations and feel quite confused when I have to confirm my status in banks, medical institutions, social services or education institutions. I had to do that also when interacting with neighbours, study mates, and even in public transport, bars, shops, on the street. I felt like everyone is watching me like a strange, different creature: “the border” between me and the receiving state accompanied me everywhere. See, everything that together does not motivate me to open and integrate.
Just like many incomers, you have your family here. You in family, you at work, you at studies, you on the street and in everyday situations with Latvians — how di your communication strategies differ in these various life situations and interaction models?
Actually, people in Latvia are just like people anywhere else. If I am alone in some everyday situation, I feel like between strangers. I think that people differ from each other in general and there are various social groups in all communities. When you get used to differences, when they become usual and habitual, the distance shrinks. Actually, I have no particular worries, fears or very specific expectations about each of the life dimensions you mentioned. I feel equal both in my family, university, and at work. Perhaps, some of incomers similar to me feel better at home, but I live in a mixed family, which means that there is a portion of inter-cultural lack of understanding and misunderstandings also in my family life (Mira’s husband is a Ukrainian — L. O.).
Your daily work makes you meet other immigrants, you even help them: how do you understand their pain, needs, and undergo their joy, revelations, and surprises? What are immigrants here happy about, what are they complaining about?
Yes, I work both with asylum seekers and refugees, and third-country nationals. Frankly speaking, asylum seekers and refugees are not satisfied with anything here, as far as I have come across it. Probably it is because they do not consider Latvia to be a country of residence — it is just a transit country for them. They do not know anything about Latvia and do not want to know; they have come here by accident, many of them — not by their own will, for example, while being on their way to Great Britain, Sweden, Germany, and other countries. This is the group of immigrants which is the least protected, they are the ones who need well-considered and adjusted integration activities, programmes, services more than any other. Unfortunately, their needs are only satisfied in part, insufficiently. State does not provide them with a long-term financial support, education programmes, courses of Latvian, place for living, even not health care services. They strive to get away from Latvia, because they feel outlawed and helpless here.
Situation with third-country nationals is completely different. For them, Latvia is a country of possibilities — new chances and “door to the future”. Students are excited to come to study in Latvia, because the average quality of education is better than in the CIS and Asian states, and cheaper than in the Western Europe. They are also lured by fact that Latvian diplomas are recognised in the EU, as well as the recognition of EU diplomas in other countries in the world. People who come to work in Latvia upon an invitation of the employer receive special provisions: the employer pays for their health insurance, and provides with a flat in special cases. Their relations with employer are regulated by an employment contract. I think that economic immigrants or labour force from other states is more protected in Latvia than students or those coming to unite their families. State’s attitude towards them is like towards tax payers, not consumers of benefits. Incomers from third-countries who come to unite their family often face different hardships and restrictions. My experience shows that third-country nationals in Latvia is a group of strong and capable people, who do not need rich help, only some understanding, support and regulation of residence policy that matches the values of human rights. I want to break down the stereotype that they have high and unfulfillable demands — there are even some of them who are ready to pay for social assistance and integration services if they are not available for free. Issues and problems arising in relation to the status of third-country nationals in Latvia are not connected with legislation or discrimination, but more with what and how professionally do the employees of state and municipal institutions, who are responsible for them, do.
Mira, how would you assess the services available in Latvia to third-country nationals in various spheres of life? Let’s start with education.
It is good that higher education is available to third-country students: it is comparatively cheap and of quite high quality. I cannot comment issues related to general education, but about the higher education I can say that consultations on social support and availability of health care services lacked in the university where I was studying. There was also not enough understandable information on the study programmes.
Does the problem lies in higher education policy regarding admitting students from third-countries?
I think that no: it is satisfactory, but its implementation causes problems to universities themselves.
How would you assess the situation in health care?
You have to pay for health care services, for example, if seeing a doctor, but I think it is worth paying, because prices are not high and services are of good quality. However, large problem is in the immigrant health insurance system, as civilised procedure for recovering expenses is lacking: the range of services that are paid by insurers is so poor that it insurance starts to pay back only in case of very heavy, life-threatening illnesses or in relation to injuries caused by accidents. To come to Latvia with any reason, it is necessary to buy an insurance policy, but, ironically, it covers the mentioned costs and also repatriation of body after the death. Everything else has to be paid be third-country nationals, and it is not cheap. In addition, no thought has been paid on culturally-specific health care needs of immigrants, and information on health care services is not sufficient in other languages. As far as I know, no appropriate mental health care is available, nor are services of psychologist or psychotherapist, where specialists would take into account the peculiarities of immigrant’s culture. I think that health care policy regarding the needs of third-country nationals should become more open and nuanced.
Housing issues, is everything okay here?
Investors from third countries who invest their money in immovable properties have no problems. If I want to purchase a flat — go ahead, no one is going to hinder you. Troubles start when an immigrant, especially looking everything but Latvian, wants to rent a flat: owners often take fright and rejects. My advice to peers from third-countries: if you want to rent or buy a flat, it is better to use agent’s services. It will take more money and time, but will also give a guarantee that you will have a place to live in.
What about consumption of culture products? Are they available?
Here I do not see any problems, in fact. Representatives of different cultures have rich possibilities to enjoy various culture events — this is what Riga and Latvia can be proud of. Moreover, they are available to people with various needs, interests, and from different cultures (Mira is very fond of “Prāta vētra” music — L. O.).
Before, you mentioned advantages of third-country employees in comparison with immigrants whose residence in Latvia is related with other objectives. How would you assess the current labour market regulation and services?
Highly-qualified job seekers will find Latvia as suited and friendly country. At least, in private sector one can find a job. But in general, against the background of local, must say decreasing, level of unemployment (it is around 10% already for a year — L. O.) I would not say that each and every foreign employee is welcomed here open-armed. You know already that a third-country national can only be hired if no inhabitant of Latvia or EU citizen having appropriate qualification has not applied for that job within a month of it is announced. In the employment policy I see the following problem: Latvia still has not signed nor ratified the United Nations Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.
Last, but not least, question is about participation in politics. One can think that if Latvia had, for example, Immigrants’ Party, who would defend their rights and freedom actively, the protection of their rights would improve gradually.
You already know that immigrants are not allowed to establish a political party. They can, however, establish a non-governmental organisation, but usually they are hindered by the bureaucratic procedures at Register of Enterprises (which are not so confusing for an educated person familiar with the political system in Latvia — L. O.). In my opinion, restrictions to participation is a sensitive and emotional question, let’s take, for example, municipal level. You live in a town for years, work there and pay taxes, but have no right to decide about issues related to town’s development, elect the town’s council or mayor. Your political rights are very restricted. From the politics’ viewpoint, the freedom of assembly and association, giving right to a third-country national to establish a non-governmental organisation or participate in current non-governmental organisations, establish a trade union or be a member in a trade union, should be supplemented with right to establish political parties and elect municipal government, if one has lived in the particular municipal territory and worked there for a long period of time and if holding a permanent residence permit. It would be simply just.
Thank you for your opinion and thoughts you shared! Let’s hope that it will help immigration policy makers and implementers draw conclusions and improve their work in the future.
In the next article the author will design the necessary changes to action policies related to residence of third-country nationals in Latvia, and will propose discussing them with policy makers.