“We have enough problems of our own,” said key ruling coalition party Greens and Farmers’ Union (ZZS) faction leader Augusts Brigmanis categorically.
“First we should think about raising the standard of living for residents already here in Latvia,” adding that he is equally skeptical about taking in refugees from Ukraine should the need arise.
Dainis Liepiņš, faction head for the opposition Regional Alliance (RA) was more supportive of the idea of taking Ukrainian refugees than the masses from Africa now clambering onto barely seaworthy boats to try to cross the Mediterranean.
“We think the issue could be addressed in a different way, like offering technical help to the states of southern Europe to combat the illegal human trafficking business,” said the RA leader in Saeima.
On his part opposition Harmony deputy Valērijs Agešins advised Latvia’s representatives in international organizations “not to try to outrun this train” and refrain from overly accommodating EU mandates. “If the government ministers and premier again keep bowing before the EU institutions, then we (Harmony) will also have to do something about this matter,” he said.
From the Heart for Latvia head Inguna Sudraba said her opposition party is negatively disposed toward accepting refugees. “This isn’t right and definitely isn’t a national priority,” said the former State Auditor, arguing that Latvia’s economic situation, with more than 60,000 poverty-level residents, prevents it from being able to afford such burdens.
Meanwhile, ruling coalition partners the National Alliance (NA) party had already come out strongly against the refugee quotas currently under consideration by the EU. Faction leader Imants Parādnieks said in a separate statement Thursday that Latvia should not be subject to the quotas as long as it could provide help to the overburdened fellow member-states in the form of medical and technical aid.
“There are no international obligations requiring Latvia to accept any refugee quotas. Latvia has the right to determine its own migration policy rather than thoughtlessly follow the ideological framework set by the EC for resolving this refugee issue,” announced Parādnieks.
Another prominent NA lawmaker, Janis Dombrava, tweeted that Latvia already had the highest level of "other ethnicities" in the European Union and that therefore further immigration was "not possible". He also provided a chart illustrating his claim that 62% of the country was Latvian and the remainder "other ethnicities".
Starp visām ES valstīm Latvijā ir vislielākais cittautiešu īpatsvars, tāpēc jaunu ieceļotāju uzņemšana nav iespējama. pic.twitter.com/FD0y4neHFW— Jānis Dombrava (@janisdombrava) May 7, 2015
On Wednesday Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma warned that the EU’s ten-point action plan for dealing with the flood of migrants from North Africa would still face difficult debates. While Latvia has not supported the quotas, she said the state must prepare for the possibility to offer asylum to a certain number of these desperate people.
Interior Minister Rihards Kozlovskis welcomed the beginning of the debate amongst Latvia’s policy makers, stressing repeatedly that the quota mechanism must remain based on voluntary principles rather than binding mandates.
The matter has swept to the fore as seasonal flows of illegal immigration across Europe’s southern sea borders into Italy, Greece, Malta and other member-states on the Mediterranean have swollen into a massive tide, many of them perishing in the dangerous attempt to reach their shores.