Locals enjoy new facilities at Mucenieki but remain wary of refugees

Even though the Mucenieki asylum seekers' center is open for almost 20 years, only recently has it become the focus of public attention, reported Latvian Radio Monday.

The renovated annex to the refugee facility at Mucenieki was opened in March, and Latvian Radio was taken on a tour around the place, which now offers housing to asylum seekers and facilities for locals.

"Here they have a workshop hall where all kinds of activities take place. Children come here to paint. Further there's a planned kitchenette. Then there's a laundry hall, while an exercise hall is on the ground floor," said Pēteris Grūbe, head of the center.

The facility is one of the largest new infrastructure projects in the small Mucenieki village with around 600 registered residents.

The asylum seekers' center located at a former Soviet barracks operates for about 20 years. But it has become fuller with the worsening of the refugee crisis in Europe.

"What I've noticed since I started working here is that with all the [refugee settlement] plan and all the construction, there's activity in the Mucenieki village as well," said Grūbe.

"As there are more of us in this center now, there's more attention from the police of course. [..] I think that security matters have become better," he said.

"Honestly, however, I don't see that there are more problems [than formerly] in this regard. As we have 161 people in the center now and often the locals, I think, don't even know there are that many people here," he said.

Both locals and asylum seekers routinely shop at the grocery store opposite to the center.

Ramona, a store clerk, said that the asylum seekers have different levels of politeness.

However the new facility is very welcome and should have been built long ago.

"A neighbor of mine has visited the place. She said that it's nice there. As before there was a so-called center that consisted of a small apartment with a room [as small] as my bathroom. It was really carmped there," she said.

"But such a center and larger premises had been asked of the municipality for years. As sad as it sounds, we've only gained something because of the refugees. We call it bribery," she says.

She says that the new center for detained foreigners - marked with a big grey wall - is the chief cause of worry. A local association is collecting signatures for a petition against this center.

"Decisions affecting our everyday life are being made behind our backs," said Kristīne Ozoliņa, a member of the association. She'll be running in the municipal elections with the National Alliance.

According to her, the costs of having refugees here far outweigh the benefits.

Meanwhile Zigurds Blaus, mayor of the Ropaži municipality, said that the municipality will receive €60,000 for investing into security and lighting. A video surveillance project is in the works too, and they want to receive Norwegian funds for improving the sports field.

The Ropaži municipality is also looking into ways of expanding the kindergarten that was recently opened at the center so that local children can attend too.

Currently the only thing that brings together the locals and the strangers arriving at Mucenieki is the run-down soccer field by the forest edge.

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