Latvia expressed its readiness to support the people of Belarus following the presidential elections and the subsequent protests. Politicians have already counted IT companies which will move here with employees and their families.
However, the aid is based on a certain calculation. People who are not on the list of special professions do not have such opportunities, and they come to Latvia as asylum seekers, trying to survive with the support of donations. One of the first things they ask for is the right to work sooner. This is confirmed by Radion Begliak and Yuri Kopylov, who have been in Latvia for approximately two months and are in the asylum-seekers center Mucenieki.
An investigation against Radion in Belarus has been initiated. “I participated in protests in Gomel, I was detained, sat in the isolator for three days, and then left,” he tells her. At first, Radion fled to Russia, where an international company is based, in which he has worked as a management consultant. However, Russia issues its citizens to Belarus, so he has come to Latvia.
Yuri, who is a mountain engineer, urged the uprising of a company he worked at, after which work had to be left. They are both grateful for the support and security feeling provided in Latvia, but they would also like to work.
Asylum seekers have a roof over their heads and a benefit of €3 a day or €21 a week and, thanks to the support of European Union funds, also food packages. But it is difficult to meet all the basic needs.
“It's enough for food, if it's prepared by oneself, but nothing else. We are assisted by the Belarusian diaspora, which is here in Latvia. But without their help, it would be difficult. I am convinced that many refugees who do not have a developed diaspora in Latvia, for example, people from Bangladesh, Syria, it is very difficult for them. We are also trying to help them, if we are given some things, and we are trying to share it so that it is easier for these people,” said Radion.
By the beginning of November, 21 citizens of Belarus requested asylum in Latvia, 15 of them staying in the “Mucenieki” asylum center. The number is not high, and the “Viegli palīdzēt” movement, which organizes support for Belarus and asylum seekers, said that people are seeking help in countries where the situation is more favorable.
The movement's spokeswoman, Inese Vaivare, said that many people from Belarus want to leave temporarily. But until they can return, they want to work here or to study. “There are a lot of cases and I have nothing to offer. The only thing I can offer is to go into the asylum system,” she said.
The Immigration Law prevents asylum seekers from earning a salary for themselves. It states that the soonest a job can be started is six months after arrival if no decision has been taken before on status to be granted.
Deputy Managing Director of the Citizenship and Migration Office (PLMP) Maira Roze points out that the time period must be proportionate and it should be understood that asylum seekers are from different countries.
"The first three months, even more, are interviews, training. Work must not interfere with these integration measures," she said.
The Ministry of Welfare now says that the length of time could be debated , but international rights should be respected, which means a shorter term for everyone and this should be assessed by the Ministry of Interior.
In turn, the Ministry of Interior points out that it will again offer a three-month deadline – such a proposal has already been entered into the new Immigration Law, but it is not yet known when it will come to the government's agenda.
PMLP says there is an alternative. Asylum seekers could also apply for a work visa as foreigners, but then there are conditions: no locals have applied for a vacancy and the salary should be at least the state average, or EUR 1076.
Asylum seekers are not aware of this possibility and are also surprised by the “Viegli palīdzēt” movement, because as far as they knew, such a visa could only be requested when they were abroad before they arrived. The PLMP has no answer why it hadn't been cleared up.
“The answer depends on the question. If there is a question - may I work - no, just six months later. If there is a question - if I have an employer who takes me, may I obtain a [work visa] - then there is a different answer,” said Roze.
Anyway, it wouldn't be an option for everyone. However, the Saeima does not currently think that the system should be changed. Andrejs Judins, Chairman of the Saeima Migration Affairs Commission (“New Unity”), believes that the problem should be resolved differently. “In particular, it is important to review these submissions as soon as possible so that people do not wait for half a year – will the status be granted or not, but to make it happen sooner. And as far as I understood from PMLP, they are doing everything they can to accelerate the process,” he explained.
The PMLP estimates that the first decisions are unlikely to be earlier than mid-December, and it is up to these people to wait.