Urbanization in Latvia is still ongoing, with people moving from rural areas to cities. This is due to the fact that life in the countryside is more expensive and inconvenient, the minister said.
“We cannot simply empty out our eastern territories, [leaving them] for the bears,” Sprindžuks said.
He stressed the importance of keeping the national network of services – schools, nursery schools, health services, public transport – in Latvia's east. If schools are closed, there must be a solution with transport instead, said the politician, acknowledging that it is not really the case right now.
The rural aspect was also highlighted by the NGO "I want to help refugees" board member Linda Jākobsone-Gavala, who said that those refugees who are accommodated in remote areas find it difficult to get a job. The solution is seen in accommodation in cities, but there is no clarity on how to achieve it.
Jākobsone-Gavala also said that integration into schools is an issue for Ukrainian children not only rurally. "We have not done as much as we could have to help the children integrate into the Latvian school system. The main issue here is the Latvian language," she said, adding that camps for language learning should be available to Ukrainian children in the summer.
43 thousand refugees from Ukraine have received asylum in Latvia, with a total of €65 million in aid allocated. More recently, the number of refugees is shrinking, and demand for aid is also waning. At the same time, some refugees currently have no chance of returning to Ukraine, which means they will remain in Latvia for a long time, said Minister Sprindžuks.
He pointed out that these refugees are a contribution to the Latvian economy: “It is not that they live at the expense of social benefits. They are economically active.” This is particularly important for the service sector.
There are no accurate data on the employment of Ukrainian refugees, but there are "signals from local governments about the integration of refugees into the labor market".