According to the UNHCR, 183 refugees resided in Latvia in 2014. In 2014, 365 first-time asylum applications were made, a decrease from 185 in 2013 (data from Eurostat). In 2014, the top three citizenships of asylum applicants were Georgia (175), Ukraine (75) and Syria (35).
On September 17th, the government voted on additional numbers of refugees (526) to be accepted by the country in addition to an earlier declaration. The vote followed a prolonged period of three coalition partners disagreeing on a stance towards refugees.
The foreign affairs minister declared that while solidarity is crucial in EU migration policy, sustainable solutions were needed. Among them is a focus on strengthening external borders, fighting human trafficking and smuggling, effective return policy and integration of refugees.
Latvia, along with other Visegrad Four countries, opposed mandatory refugee quotas, but unlike the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia, Latvia voted in favour of the relocation of refugees.
The government wants to construct a fence and use video surveillance at some sections of the Latvian border.
Recently, the country debated a ban on burqas as a response to the proposed legislation of the opposition party, the Latvian Regional Alliance (LRA). The legislation was not passed by the Saeima.
Refugees in host communities
In April 2015, the social campaign ‘Our people’ was launched as part of the ‘National Integration Centre’ project by the Society Integration Centre with the aim of reducing negative sentiments towards immigrants in Latvia.
Marches against refugee quotas took place, with demonstrators claiming that refugees were economic migrants. One demonstration, which took place in August, was also attended by Estonians and Lithuanians.
On national television, the former Latvian president, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, said it would be embarrassing for Latvia to declare that it is struggling with accepting and integrating refugees in the country, considering the small numbers involved.
Liberal press emphasises that Latvia, also in light of the large scale emigration of its citizens, needs more, not less, migration. In one of its articles, the Latvian daily, Neatkariga Rita Avize, highlighted that migration is crucial for innovation and the competiveness of the country.
In spring 2015, 10 per cent of Latvians declared that immigration is one of the main issues facing the country.