Defense Ministry official blasts UNHCR refugee campaign

A senior Defense Ministry official has sharply criticized a new advertising campaign by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, condemning it as a slur on the country's armed forces.

Janis Garisons, state secretary at the Defense Ministry - effectively the senior civil servant - said the UNHCR information drive called "We would do the same" gave the impression Latvians would flee rather than fight for their country, the LETA newswire reported.

It is insulting not only to the National Armed Forces soldiers, but especially National Guardsmen, who spend their free time training to defend Latvia with force of arms, Garisons said in comments reported by LETA.

"The real will of the Latvian people to defend their country will mean that we never reach the situation in which Latvians will seek refuge," asserted Garisons.

The campaign suggests that Latvians might act in precisely the same way as current refugees from warzones in the Middle East by fleeing their countries and seeking refuge elsewhere - as indeed was the case with thousands of Latvians fleeing the advancing Soviet army at the end of World War Two.

It was launched last week in Riga and runs until December.

However it seems to be the implication that history could repeat itself that has irked Garisons and other critics who insist today's Latvians would definitely stand and fight against any aggressor.

The Defense Ministry official is not the first person to voice criticism of the campaign. As previously reported by LSM, it has been condemned as "unpatriotic" in one newspaper and parodied on social media. 

In the wake of Garisons' comments, MEP Artis Pabriks of the Unity political party - a former Foreign Minister and Defense Minister - said he supported Garison's view.

Responding to the criticism, UNHCR co-ordinator in Latvia Didzis Melbiksis defended the publicity drive, telling LSM: "The campaign reminds people that refugees and asylum seekers are people just as we are, only now they find themselves in a difficult situation. We also love our loved ones, and in similar circumstances would do the same - to flee from the horrific conditions which, for example, are currently found in Syria."

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