What has Latvia planned for Ukrainian integration in 2024?

In less than two months, it will be two years since Russia launched a full-scale war in Ukraine. Latvia is reminded of this daily not only by news headlines, but also by a large number of Ukrainian refugees – around 33 thousand. How have the support measures changed over time, and what is planned for the future? Latvian Radio sought answers December 28.

Move of support center

On the first working day of the new year, the support center for Ukrainians will open its doors at a new premises in the Jugla district in Rīga. The center has moved locations several times but so far has been located in the center of Rīga.  An average of 500 Ukrainian refugees a day still arrive at the center. They include those who have just arrived in Latvia, but most seek help repeatedly.

“The longer a person lives [here], the longer he or she has new issues – integration issues, Latvian language issues. At the moment, New Year's events for children are a very popular issue. It makes sense – there is no time to think about it at the first moment,“ said representative of the organization "I want to help refugees" Linda Jākobsone-Gavala.

That the center's fourth home will now be so far away, on Pāļu Street 9, doesn't seem logical to her.

“To reach it from the center of Riga, even though the transport movement is very good [..] is particularly worrying because people in the center of Rīga come from different places, not just Rīga residents. Finding Pāles Street is as much of a challenge as any address in Riga, but it is also a certain cost to people,” said Jākobsone-Gavala.

Pēteris Grūbe, head of Riga Ukrainian Refugee Center, said the new premises could open up more possibilities for support.

"We're starting to branch out more right now to education, language learning, socio-economic inclusion. The building on Amatu Street [..] was very narrow. Here we have a big hall, there's a gym, it's going to allow us to have inclusive events,” Grūbe said.

Education for Ukrainian children

Education for children has been a discussion at the government level, where before Christmas the plan for the 2024 measures to provide support to Ukrainian civilians under the supervision of the Ministry of the Interior was approved.

“It is now the third school year, and around half of Ukrainian children in Latvia are still learning remotely. According to the Education and Science Ministry (IZM), we have no plans to encourage them to participate in the Latvian school system. This is a significant difference from other countries, such as neighboring Lithuania, where Ukrainian children are obliged to attend school. Latvia also does not offer any free courses or tuition to Ukrainian children who do not currently study in Latvian educational institutions,” Jākobsone-Gavala noted.

Allowing Ukrainian children to continue learning remotely will contribute to the risk of exclusion, prevent them from entering the education system at the highest levels, also in the labor market and society as a whole, according to the NGO employee. The“organization also encourages providing children with the same support measures as adults to learn the Latvian language, to increase the number of assistants in schools, as well as to develop a clear algorithm to ensure that all Ukrainian children attend any school.

Education and Science Minister Anda Čakša (New Unity) responded to these criticisms at the Cabinet meeting saying that Ukrainian interest is low:

“I have had conversations with the Ukrainian ambassador, I have offered that we register all children not only in the municipality but also in the school, but at the moment there has been no support for that, we can of course decide on that. Currently, Latvian language learning [for Ukrainian children] is available, and we see that groups are not filled there,” Čakša said.

EUR 10 million deficit in aid

The Minister agreed that the arrival of Ukrainian children in Latvian schools would be in their interest, and the funding to support Ukrainian residents in Latvia will be large enough next year – EUR 70 million. EUR 80 million 882 thousand was requested.

The State Secretary of the Ministry of the Interior Dimitrijs Trofimovs said that the most important thing is that already in October it was decided to extend the protection status of Ukrainian refugees in Latvia – not short-term anymore like at the beginning of the war, but long enough – until March 3, 2025. Parliament has also extended the special aid law accordingly during this period.

"The number of documents we have issued – temporary residence permits and so-called D visas, which have been extended by law for the entire next year, is for 60,763 people, of which more than half have asked for various types of support and assistance, and the funding approved by the Cabinet of Ministers is intended to cover all needs for Ukrainians already here and those who could still come to Latvia next year," explained the State Secretary of the Ministry of the Interior.

According to the Ministry of the Interior, almost 33 thousand Ukrainians currently have temporary homes in Latvia – these are the people who receive assistance or have requested asylum. 

No specific strategy for integration in Latvia

The Ministry of Education and Science and the Ministry of Culture have been entrusted with teaching the Latvian language to Ukrainians and their integration into Latvian society in cooperation with the Society Integration Fund, the official of the Ministry of the Interior said.

The Parliamentary Secretary of the Minister for Culture Agnese Lāce, who is also a migration researcher, noted that no specific strategy for Ukrainian integration in Latvia was created.

“At the moment there is no such plan aimed specifically at the integration of Ukrainian civilians into Latvian society. It is part of a joint support plan for Ukrainian civilians,“ Lāce said.

This year, KM attracted funding for teaching Latvian for adults and cultural orientation courses for all Ukrainian refugees. Funding for next year was requested in the same amount, Lāce said.

“The funding set aside in 2023 was just over four million euros for Latvian language learning and 4.1 million for cultural orientation courses and inclusion events,” Lāce said.

Cultural orientation courses aimed at providing useful skills to Ukrainian children during the summer holidays did not start until mid-summer this year, but they will be planned in time this year, the official promised. Ukrainian activities themselves have also received support. The Ministry of Education and Science has transferred the building in Riga, Strūgu Street 4, which is much closer to the city center than the support center for Ukrainian residents, for gratuitous use to the public benefit organization “Ukrainian House in Latvia”.

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