Small demo in support of welcoming refugees

Three weeks after an "anti-immigration" demonstration mixed reasoned opposition to EU rules with overt racism, Monday witnessed a small picket from the other end of the range of views on whether and how Latvia could or should help those fleeing North Africa and the Middle East.

A few dozen demonstrators met Monday evening outside the Culture Ministry - which has responsibility for integration policy - in an attempt to show that at least part of Latvian society is in favor of offering refugees a helping hand.

Helmuts Caune, one of the organizers of the pro-refugee picket, told the BNS newsire that his group represented those Latvians who considered migration a normal phenomenon. Their intention is to initiate a public debate on humane methods for integration of immigrants, he said.

The picket was organized to urge the ministry to produce a well-considered integration program, Caune said.

Half a dozen anti-refugee demonstrators, including some members of the bizarro 'Antiglobalisti' group, had stationed themselves across the street from the ministry in order to protest against the protest against their previous protest.

Andris Orols, apparent 'leader' of the anti-gay, anti-refugee, anti-NATO, anti-euro Antiglobalisti - who somehow manage to combine the trappings of anarchism with a belief in draconian state action - told the press that a referendum should have been held in Latvia on the subject.

He said he was not opposed to immigration as such but was against mass immigration, he said.

The European Commission has proposed sending 250 refugees to Latvia over two years.

Representatives of both groups were invited to a meeting with Culture Minister Dace Melbarde, who said that people in Latvia probably feared the arrival of refugees because they did not see a comprehensive solution to the refugee problem.

Answering a question from one of the anti-refugee demonstrators about the responsibility of the Culture Ministry if the integration plans failed and “refugees would be forming lines at soup kitchens,” the minister pointed out that different ministries had different responsibilities, and the Culture Ministry’s responsibility was to give the refugees knowledge about Latvia and the Latvian language.

Melbarde underlined that the success of the integration program depended also on the personal attitude of those, for whom this program was meant, and their willingness to use the opportunities created by the Latvian government to help them become part of the Latvian community.

The pro-refugee demonstrators reproached the Culture Ministry for insufficient efforts to change the public opinion in favor of refugees but the ministry’s officials rejected the criticism, saying that they were making efforts to this end but the public opinion could not be turned around overnight.

The Latvian government at an extraordinary meeting in early July agreed that over two years Latvia would voluntary admit 250 refugees from Africa who need to be relocated within the EU. The government also established a workgroup tasked with elaborating legal and practical arrangements for acceptance of the refugees and their integration in Latvia.

Since then, some demonstrations have already been organized in Latvia regarding the expected arrival of refugees, including a protest at the Cabinet building on August 13 that gathered several hundred people, who voiced objections to the government’s decision to accept refugees.

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