Latvia ready to take in Ukrainian refugees, visas for Russians to be suspended

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Latvia's government emerged from an extraordinary cabinet meeting February 24 with its considered response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Measures to be adopted include readying 10,000 places for refugees from Ukraine and the cancellation of visas being issued to Russian citizens.  

Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš, said that contingency plans for dealing with various situations had been prepared for a long time. A plan for the reception and accommodation of refugees, developed by the Ministry of the Interior, was approved on Thursday.

Asked whether there are plans to declare a state of emergency in Latvia, as has been done in Lithuania, Kariņš replied: "As far as I know, Lithuania has declared a state of emergency to facilitate decisions regarding future refugees. In Latvia, hopefully, within a day the Saeima could approve [these measures]. It will regulate legally what is planned quite clearly," he said, in which case a formal state of emergency would not be necessary.

Interior Minister Maria Golubeva said that the plan provided for accommodation, distribution of basic necessities, as well as vaccination against Covid-19 and testing, with arrivals accommodated in hotels and guesthouses in coordination with municipal authorities.

Last weekend, the Ministry of Economics asked the Association of Hotels and Restaurants to find out how many rooms would be available to accommodate Ukrainian refugees for three months.

"I very much hope that we will agree on all the basic measures this week, even if the plan is formally approved on Monday or Tuesday. Let us remember that we do not have a direct border with Ukraine. So we will be a secondary destination, one of many. Respectively, people will come through Poland or Hungary or Slovakia," said Golubeva.

Local governments are also ready to provide assistance to Ukraine, the Latvian Association of Local Governments pointed out. It met again on Thursday with representatives of the Interior Ministry to discuss municipal assistance to potential refugees from Ukraine. Local authorities are ready to help not only by hosting Ukrainians, but also by providing financial support to their partners in Ukraine.

Separately, Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs said that in light of he security situation in Ukraine, the Latvian ambassador to Russia, Māris Riekstiņš will be recalled for consultations, and the issuance of travel visas to Russian citizens will be suspended, except in cases related to special humanitarian considerations.

Meanwhile Minister of Culture Nauris Puntulis issued a statement calling on artists planning to travel to Russia to consider their decisions carefully and adopt a stance that shows solidarity with Ukraine. He stopped short of asking them to cancel any such visits, but his words strongly hinted that it would be a good idea and said all state-backed cultural institutions had already "cancelled all planned activities in Russia".

"Each of us can support the Ukrainian people in their efforts to protect their country within its internationally recognized borders," he said, urging arts institutions to display Ukrainian flags and colors.

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