Learning Latvian and finding place to live difficult for refugees

Learning the language and finding a place to live - these are the greatest problems that hinder refugees from integrating within the public, said Pēteris Grūbe, head of the Mucenieki asylum seekers' center in an interview with Latvian Radio January 11. 

About 2,500 asylum seekers have stayed at the center since it was set up about 20 years ago, and it currently houses 62 people seeking refuge in Latvia, Grūbe said. 

Latvia has currently admitted 367 refugees under the EU relocation scheme, and in parallel there are about 200 people who cross the border into Latvia each year and apply for asylum, said the official. 

It's no secret that most people arriving under the said scheme choose to leave Latvia. The greatest problems they face are invariably learning the language, which they are supposed to learn during their three months of stay, as well as finding a place to live, says Grūbe.

"As most of these people have families and children, often upon receiving their benefits they choose to seek out their community in other countries, which offer immediate help," said Grūbe. 

"While sometimes you can feel that people are not interested [in staying in Latvia], most of the time they arrive with their own goals and ambitions. But of course, as they learn the difficulties in store for them.. we can't fault people for choosing the path of least resistance," he said. 

People who are legally recognized as refugees usually stay at Mucenieki for an extra four weeks.

"During that time they deal with the formalities, like forming documents, opening a bank account, and other things. By and large, they leave Mucenieki a month after [legal recognition]," he said.

While many people arriving in Mucenieki are from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq, lately arrivals from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan and Russia have started coming in as well. 

Grūbe also used the interview to play down what's perceived as a negativity on part of the locals, saying it's "not as dismissive as sometimes portrayed in the media."

Asked what the asylum center needs to operate more smoothly, he said he thinks it's already doing quite well.

"The problems start when people open the door of Mucenieki to leave. A number of questions should be solved that help people integrate within the society, and find work and a place to live faster," Grūbe said.

As reported, a renovated annex to the refugee facility at Mucenieki was opened last March, with additional housing for asylum seekers and facilities for both locals and people arriving here. 

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