Refugees keep leaving Latvia

Only five asylum seekers taken to Latvia under the EU relocation scheme have remained in Latvia, and one of them is planning on leaving soon, according to a non-government organization.

The asylum seekers who have agreed to be relocated here had not chosen Latvia as a transit-country right from the start, said Sandra Zalcmane, head of the NGO Patverums Drosa Maja (Shelter Safe House), appearing on the LNT television channel on February 22.

The main problem is that those persons who are relocated to Latvia know very little about the country, and the three months they are given to prepare to join local society is not enough for them to began to live self-dependently.

Zalcmane said that the first thing that shocks most of the asylum seekers is the relatively harsh climate, because of which many of them become ill.

The head of the NGO believes that ''Latvia has not done its homework'', as it has not provided these refugees with sufficient and objective information on what to expect when they arrive. 

''Of course, people arrive, and they expect much more than what we can provide. Our country is only as wealthy as it is,'' Zalcmane said, adding that social workers help the refugees with warm clothing.

She said that Latvia should clearly define its political stance - ''either we support these people and truly attempt to integrate them into society, or we just take them in and allow them to go their separate ways, these are two completely different things''.

If Latvia wishes to retain these people and integrate them into society, then they should, first of all, be given more time to prepare instead of just three months, she said. That is the time span that refugees are allowed to stay in Latvia's sole asylum center at Mucenieki.

Second of all, refugees must receive additional material support, as well as assistance in finding places to live and learn the language, because without this it is practically impossible to work in this country, she said.

However, said Zalcmane, Latvia has successfully integrated four families with children within the past year, all of which arrived outside of the EU's relocation program.

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