A little more than two years ago Latvia agreed to host 531 asylum seekers from Greece, Italy and Turkey. As the country had no experience in the matter, so the entire system for supporting these people had to be fully built. Around the same time, Rashed, a refugee from Afghanistan arrived in Latvia. He shared his experience to tell how looks from the inside and why so many who receive asylum in Latvia, decide to leave.
Rashed was only 21 years old when he had to leave the family and flee. Two years ago, he lived near the eastern border of Afghanistan and worked as an assistant to a deputy in the local municipality. It was his occupation that caused the Taliban’s attention.
“They came to our house and said:” We are Muslims, you are also a Muslim. You should not interact with the American government. Work with us. But when working with them, there are two options – to kill or be killed.”
“To avoid creating problems for my family, I left Afghanistan,” Rashed said. “It’s not a problem to find smugglers who are willing to bring you to Europe.”
Soon, he could start his month long journey from Jalalabad. Rashad does not know through which countries he came to Latvia. On the road, they were transferred from a car to a car and the route wasn’t discussed with them.
All he knows that after crossing the border of Belarus and Latvia, the smugglers left him somewhere in Daugavpils. Asking for help to some locals to call the police, he went to the Detention Center for Foreigners. “Europe does not put refugees in jail. When I said it to them, they said that their system is like it is and that I had to stay there. Nobody said anything to me, but after two months I was transferred to “Mucenieki*”, says Rashed.
The waiting time for the examination of the asylum application wasn’t long: about two months. The problem was what to do afterwards.
“In the information session, we were told that we can search for accommodation through the small ads portal” ss.lv “. But when I called people and spoke Russian, they heard my accent and understood that it was not my mother tongue. They asked me where I was from and when I explained that I was from Afghanistan, they said: “This offer is not for you,” Rashad remembers.
Moreover, even if the landlords would have been more understanding, paying the rent is a challenge. The latest government report also acknowledges that this can be difficult or even impossible, especially when it comes to paying the security deposit. Currenty, the adult benefit is € 139. It is however slightly higher in the first month: 278 euros.
It is also impossible to benefit from any municipally help in obtaining the accomodation, before the person declares his residence in the given municipality. Currently, a pilot project where the rent for an apartment is covered by the state for half a year is being tested.
“The housing issue is the most complicated in this story,” says Jana Muižniece, Deputy State Secretary of the Ministry of Welfare.
“Considering that six months is too short to integrate into Latvian society and also into the labor market, which is also linked to language learning, we are currently working to extend the implementation of the pilot project,” said Muižniece.
But only three families could participate in the project. The rest are still waiting for support. Rached was lucky to find an apartment: he was housed by a man who wanted to help. But the accomodation is only the first step in trying to integrate into a foreign country. He started to study to become a welder. The courses were held in Latvian language, and although he wasn’t fully fluent, and at the end of training he was offered a job which paid the minimum wage.
“After paying taxes, the salary would be about 250 euros. Then I began to think – how can I survive? The apartment often costs more than € 250,” he says.
“I decided that I could not stay and went to Germany,” Reshad acknowledges.
Statistics on how many people make such a decision are not collected by anyone. However, it is known that in 2016 and 2017 the asylum was granted to 452 people, and there are only 24 persons registered at the State Employment Agency, of whom 18 have found a job, which can help to guess the number of those who have stayed.
Allow everyone to leave is not a solution. A residence permit doesn’t allow to work in another country. In addition, individuals with an alternative status should renew their permit once a year. If this does not happen, the person is forced to come back to Latvia.
Spokesperson of State Border Guard Kristīne Pētersone says that in 2017 and 2018, the State Border Guard has received applications for readmission or return requests for 36 persons. Only four persons came back to Latvia.”
“Because the implementation of the return process to Latvia is a duty and responsibility of the country in which the persons are staying illegally, Latvia does not know the reasons why the other confirmed persons did not return to Latvia,” said Pētersone.
Rashed is one of them. After three unsuccessful attempts to obtain a residence permit in Germany, he had to return.
Agnese Lace, a researcher for migration and integration at “Providus” says that after returning people can become even more helpless. “When people return, they don’t have a place where stay. They often stay in shelters or hostels, but it’s not possible for families with children, because shelters separate people by gender in the shelters and often do not accept children, “says Agnese Lace.
She explains that once person has stopped registering monthly with the State Employment Agency, the benefit are not paid anymore, and one year after receiving the status, one can no longer have the support from social workers.
The Ministry of Welfare is thinking about possible solutions, but has not any specific ideas for the time being.
Rehad has been lucky again: another person offered him an accommodation. Now he is determined to succeed.
It is however the attitude of other people that disappoints him and doesn’t let him to feel at home, he says. He feels afraid. This is also the reason why he did not want to show his face during the interview.
“If I say hello to someone on the street to ask for directions, no one even answers, they just pass by. They think I’ll attack them or that I carry explosives with me,” says Rashed.
“UNHCR believes that the work on integration and inclusion is ongoing process. Substantial investments are needed in employment, housing, language acquisition and cultural orientation focusing on rights and obligations, and helping refugees to manage expectations. It is essential that refugees are able to provide for themselves, to live in security and interact with the community.
When helped to find work quickly, refugees are likely to give back to their communities many times over the investments made initially in their integration. A welcoming environment is indispensable to achieve integration and inclusion.
Latvia needs more resolute action to combat xenophobia through awareness campaigns, civil society programs and activities supporting the integration of refugees through interaction with communities. UNHCR stands ready to work closely with the Latvian government, civil society and the private sector to support integration planning and further development of integration programs.”
– Marcel Colun, UNHCR Regional Liaison Officer