FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
I Common topics
56. Since ECRI’s last report, the number of “non-citizens” has further declined (326 735 persons in 2011, who then made up 14.6% of the population).63 This is partially due to demographic factors and mortality, as around 40% of “non-citizens” are 60 years or older. At the same time, the number of naturalisations has also declined but now stabilised at approximately 1 000 per year. According to the authorities, 98% of “non-citizen” applicants pass the necessary naturalisation exams, although not all of them on their first attempt. According to a 2016 survey carried out by the Office for Citizenship and Migration Affairs, among “non-citizens”, the personal reasons why respondents did not want to apply for naturalisation have changed. In previous years, the Latvian language requirement and the fees had been mentioned as obstacles. These no longer feature strongly among the reasons given. Instead, the advantages of visa-free travel to the Russian Federation and eligibility for a then more advantageous Russian pension are highlighted by many respondents. In addition, many “non-citizens” refuse to apply for naturalisation out of principle, as they believe they should be granted Latvian citizenship automatically. These reasons and sentiments were also confirmed to ECRI by various representatives of “non-citizen” organisations.
59. Further steps taken by the authorities to promote the naturalisations of “noncitizens” include information-days organised in municipalities with a high proportion of “non-citizens” among the residents, during which details of the naturalisation process are explained. The authorities, through the Society Integration Fund, also provide free Latvian language classes for “non-citizens” in preparation for their naturalisation exams,68 as recommended by ECRI in its last report.69 While ECRI commends the authorities for this measure, it also received information that these language classes, at times, fill up very quickly, resulting in insufficient capacity for all “non-citizens” who wish to enrol. This problem might grow, if the authorities’ efforts to promote naturalisation are successful.
68 The required level is B2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.
69 ECRI (2012): § 122.
60. ECRI recommends that the authorities ensure that sufficient places are available for “non-citizens” wishing to enrol in Latvian language courses free of charge in preparation for their naturalisation exams.
Refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection
76. With the onset of the migration crisis90 in Europe in 2015, the Ministry of Interior prepared an Action Plan to prepare and manage the reception and integration of an increasing number of migrants. This included cross-cultural awareness raising activities carried out by the Information Centre for Immigrants; support to local associations of volunteers engaging in support for newly arrived persons and the expansion of the Latvian language course programme. The Society Integration Fund also initiated a mentoring programme, in cooperation with the Latvian Red Cross. In addition, Riga City Council has implemented various positive integration support activities, together with NGOs, including training seminars for teachers on integrating refugee children in schools, awareness-raising for social workers and support to local initiatives. ECRI strongly encourages the national authorities to provide additional financial support to municipalities for integration activities.
90 As defined in ECRI’s Annual Report 2015.
77. The two core elements, on which national integration measures are based, are learning of the Latvian language and enhancing beneficiaries’ chances to find employment in order to be economically self-sufficient. To this end, the authorities provide 120 hours of free-of-charge language classes to refugees and persons with alternative status during the initial 4-months reception period. However, this only comes to a daily average of approximately 1.5 hours, which civil society interlocutors working with this group of persons told ECRI is far from sufficient, especially when the aim is to integrate beneficiaries into the Latvian labour market. Various experts expressed the view that 360 hours would be a useful level for a basic course.
78. Insufficient language skills are only one problem when it comes to finding employment. Lack of relevant and recognised professional qualifications is often another problem. Although refugees and persons with alternative status have access to education and to special support and vocational training programmes offered by the State Employment Agency on an equal footing with Latvian citizens, finding work remains a key challenge for many. In this context, ECRI notes that persons with international protection are not given a financial allowance to enable them to subsist, let alone integrate (see also footnote 89). In addition, ECRI also notes that the duration of entitlements to the allowance differs between refugees and persons with alternative status. ECRI would like to point
out that, because the socio-economic difficulties are the same for both
categories, such reduced benefits can pose an obstacle to successful integration and may conflict with EU protection standards.91
91 See: Article 29(2) of EU Directive 2011/95.
80. ECRI recommends that the authorities increase significantly the number of hours of Latvian language tuition during the initial reception period for refugees and persons with alternative status. ECRI also recommends that persons with international protection should receive adequate financial assistance. Furthermore, ECRI strongly recommends that the Ministry of Health investigates allegations of racial discrimination in the health sector and issues a circular to all medical staff reminding them of their obligations under the Law on the Rights of Patients as well as applicable professional ethics in this regard.
II Topics specific to Latvia
1. Interim follow-up recommendations of the fourth cycle
81. In its fourth report, ECRI recommended as a priority recommendation that the authorities endow the Ombudsman’s Office with sufficient funds and human resources. It also recommended improving the accessibility of the institution in different languages and in the different regions of Latvia. In its 2015 interim follow-up conclusions, ECRI considered that this recommendation had been implemented.92 It had received information from the Ombudsman’s office that the trend of cutting its budget had been stopped and reversed. Furthermore, the accessibility of the Ombudsman had been improved, with the website now providing information in Latvian, Russian and English. The Ombudsman also accepts applications made in other languages. Instead of opening regional offices, the institution opted to conduct outreach activities, including regular and ad hoc visits to the different regions of Latvia, which, given the relatively small size of the country, it considers to be sufficient. During its 2017 visit to Latvia, ECRI received confirmation that the positive trend regarding the institution’s
budget has continued and ECRI trusts that the authorities will also ensure that this will be the case in the future.
92 ECRI (2015): 5.
Document data: CRI(2019)1 adopted 04.12.2018 published 05.03.2019 Link: https://rm.coe.int/fifth-report-on-latvia/1680934a9f