Human rights activists: Latvian courts disregard asylum seekers' situation

Latvia has already refused 66 out of 123 asylum requests made at the country's Citizenship and Migration Affairs Office (PMLP) this year, and human rights activists are pointing out deficiencies at Latvian courts ruling on asylum requests, reported Latvian Radio Monday.

Latvian Radio attended a court meeting in which an asylum request by a Kurdish family was reviewed. Even though it was voiced in the meeting that the family's city of residence was still under terrorist threat, the PMLP asked the court to refuse the request.

According to lawyer Vilmārs Endzels, the courts often refuse asylum requests due to lack of evidence of the persons facing death threats or persecution.

"Evidence is good if there is some, but international treaties don't ask for any. [..] If a person leaves everything behind and flees the country, what evidence could there be? If there is any chance there's threat to that person's life or health in the country, I think that the request should be granted and you cannot say, 'You have no evidence, nothing has happened to you until now, and you're perfectly fine living there," said Endzels.

At the moment the rulings are largely dependent on the lawyers' performance and volunteer assistance. There are no certified Kurdish interpreters in Latvia, and one Tarik, who has been granted a refugee status in Latvia, often helps at court meetings with his compatriots. 

However currently only double interpreting - from Latvian to Russian to Kurdish - is not convenient and can harm the asylum seekers' chances, according to Endzels. Previously several testimonies of another case, with another lawyer and another interpreter, had been translated with mistakes.

Previously the High Commissioner for Human Rights had called for European countries not to send refugees back to Iraq as the situation there is unstable and precarious.

PMLP representative Ina Vorpa said at a court meeting that one cannot feel safe in Latvia, too, angering the lawyer and the attendees alike.  

"I think that they are merely looking for ways to refuse asylum to refugees that have come to Latvia. The well-known documents about the situation in Iraq and Kurdistan are ignored," said Ance Gobiņa, a member of the I Want to Help Refugees organization.

She claimed that Latvian courts review these cases superficially and only depend on information provided by the PMLP without fact-checking, said Gobiņa.

While Ina Vorpa claimed she cannot represent PMLP commenting on the case. The migration authority itself however said that it's merely following the law, which states that threat posed to people at these territories doesn't qualify as a reason to grant asylum.

"Alternative status can be granted if a person can be either put to death, tortured, subjected to corporal punishment, humiliating punishment, or inhumane treatment. While refugee status can be granted if a person has reason to fear persecution because of race, religious background, nationality or social standing.

So if none of these criteria are voiced in the argumentation [of the asylum request], we cannot let the person remain in Latvia and grant the status," said Santa Jonāte, a PMLP representative.

This means that Latvia cannot grant asylum even when it's suggested by international institutions.

Meanwhile the ruling parties are still debating over raising the refugee's subsistence allowance from €2.15 to €3 per day.

Click here to learn more about Latvia's stance on admitting asylum seekers.

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