The refugee resettlement topic seems to overshadow all other events in Latvia, especially after the failed meeting of EU Justice Ministers, which resulted in going back to square one right before the final decision was going to be made.
After fiery public discussions and quiet whispers behind the scenes, Latvia’s government finally approved the country’s national position on the topic of refugees. On Monday, 14 September, when the extraordinary meeting of justice ministers was taking place in Brussels, Latvia had no such position on its hands. This is why Latvian Interior Minister Rihards Kozlovskis did not attend this meeting, as he had nothing to say. But after holding talks with political parties, President Raimonds Vejonis ordered the government to develop a clear and comprehensive plan for resettling refugees. This provided the Interior Ministry with a national position. This position provides that the state agrees to resettle 526 additional refugees, but stands against the introduction of a system of mandatory quotas.
This document states that physical redistribution of refugees among EU member states is an extreme measure to be used as a last resort to help stabilize the situation in specific countries. Latvia states in its position that it does not oppose coordinated actions in the EU in regards to refugee redistribution. Nevertheless, Latvia believes such measures should only be carried out voluntarily.
Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma had previously said Latvia would have to make its position clear on the matter of resettling additional refugees earlier than expected. This is because the meeting of EU Interior Ministers has been moved to 22 September. This means Latvia will have to clarify its position by then, not by 8 October, as it was previously stated.
Straujuma emphasized that there will likely be a vote on this matter regardless of Latvia’s position. It is possible that resettlement of additional refugees may be a mandatory measure for all EU member states.
On 23 September, there will be an extraordinary EU summit. During this gathering, EU officials will discuss measures to resolve the migrant crisis. Right now, official talks are being carried out in regard to the possibility that Latvia will have to resettle 776 refugees.
One would ask as to what this means for economics? Economics mean everything in this. It is worth mentioning that each individual refugee will be sustained using the state budget, or more specifically – money paid to the state budget by taxpayers. No one knows any exact figures, but there are some estimates. According to partial information, subsistence of a single refugee in the first nine months will cost EUR 1,584. EU funds will provide money as well, but only in the beginning. After that, countries will have to finance their living on their own.
Among the figures that have already been mentioned are the following: if Latvia agrees to resettle 776 refugees, each month of financial support and language lessons will cost the state EUR 237,000. Annual expenses will reach EUR 2.8 million.
After foreigners receive official status, every month of their remainder in Latvia will cost the state near EUR 198 thousand. In addition, in spite of the fact that neither the Latvian government nor municipalities have any duty to provide accommodation to refugees, the matter regarding their accommodation will inevitably surface one day. And because they will be unable to rent accommodation on their own (it is quite expensive, especially without a job). Even if they manage, it is unlikely that there will be many people in Latvia willing to provide them the living premises. To avoid chaos and creation of illegal living sites, this matter will have to be resolved on a national or municipal level.
Let’s not forget about providing education to children of those refugees, healthcare and other important aspects. All of it will cost a pretty penny. For example, Lithuanian Social and Labour Protection Ministry has calculated that care of a single asylum seeker in Rukle Refugee Centre will cost EUR 620 per month. In order to fully complete the EU refugee resettlement programme, the country will need at least EUR 800 for every individual per every month.
What to expect
One of the most popular arguments why Latvia has no reason to fear refugees is that Latvia is a poor country. Because of that, refugees will want to leave the country as soon as possible to richer countries. This trend is likely to show itself. However, refugees will be delayed by the lack of personal identification documents. There could be other obstacles preventing them from leaving. This means they will remain in Latvia for some time. Riga may become a place with ‘pockets of refugees’.
The largest refugee category is young men. Many are already married, their families left behind. As soon as they acquire a residence permit, the family reunion process will begin. There may be legal problems for men who have multiple wives.
Efforts to include refugees in the country’s labour market will be present and they will require funding. Considering that the next year’s budget is expected to be complicated even without refugees and their problems, the aforementioned task may prove to be a hearty challenge.