UN Refugee Agency: Latvia will be able to admit refugees

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) believes that Latvia will be ready to admit refugees and participate in Europe's response to the current migrant crisis, UNHCR representative Karolina Lindholm Billing said in an interview with Latvian Radio Monday.

Billing, Deputy Regional Representative (Protection) at the UNHCR Regional Representation for Northern Europe, indicated that the decisions taken by the EU were preceded by intensive debates among member states on how to deal with the situation. 

Billing said that some states are better equipped to receive refugees as they have a long history of admitting them and have established asylum programs, while there is worry that other countries like Latvia do not have the capacity to receive the refugees in a humane and dignified manner.

"In Latvia the asylum system has been well established. It has been functioning for soon 20 years. You have very good, experienced and competent officials determining asylum applications, but the integration program is much less established," she said.

Billing also said that, as this is an emergency situation, things will not be perfect, but "the UNHCR believes that with the commitment shown by the government and civil servants, Latvia will be able to participate in the European response to this refugee crisis."

She also stressed the need to educate people about the reasons why people are leaving war-torn places, with the result that the fear of the 'other' is replaced by an informed point of view.

She also went on to praise civil engagement by the Latvian society: "The engagement show by the civil society in Latvia over the past months is very impressive and important to build upon, because it shows that

Latvia is a hospitable country, which is ready to help people in need, that it is a humanitarian nation."

When informed about the possibility that benefit amounts will be reduced in Latvia, Billing said that first and foremost "Refugees want to find a job and want to be independent of social benefits and welfare. They want to stand on their feet and contribute."

She also stressed the need to commit to front-load investments, that is, facilitating integration with language learning, helping them to find housing and apply to jobs as well as to match them with employment opportunities.

Billing also said that some form of matching refugees to their target destinations will take place, in terms of the refugees' culture and skill set, but "due respect will have to be paid to the principle of non-discrimination." That includes any ethnic, religious or political discrimination.

The Latvian government and the Latvian parliamentary committee on European affairs have supported the plan by the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, for dealing with the migration crisis in Europe under which Latvia would admit up to 776 asylum seekers.

The Latvian government has adopted a tentative action plan for the admission of refugees in Latvia. The Interior Ministry has estimated that the funding necessary for the program is set at €15.4m.

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