ECRI 5th report on Latvia (excerpts on employment), 2018

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

I Common topics

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4. Integration

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Roma

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Employment

70. The very low levels of education described above, as well as frequently reported cases of anti-Roma prejudice and discrimination from potential employers result in high rates of unemployment among Roma, which in turn impacts negatively on their standard of living. The 2015 research project found that the ratio of the unemployed, both registered and unregistered, among (potentially) economically active Roma was around two-thirds (67.6%). While this can be viewed as an improvement compared to 2003 study results which had indicated a ratio of 90- 95%, the 2015 figure for Latvia’s overall population stood, in sharp contrast, at 9.9%.84

84 SIF (2015): 64.

71. In the context of high unemployment rates among Roma, the issue of
professional and vocational training and qualifications is of particular importance. From its discussions with the various relevant stakeholders, ECRI gained the distinct impression that the State Employment Agency (SEA) does not cooperate with other public entities and NGOs as much as is needed and expected when it comes to the difficult task of Roma integration into the labour market. A particular problem in this regard remains the absence of Roma-specific measures. While professional and vocational training courses are offered by the SEA to all unemployed persons, they usually require participants to have completed primary school up to 7th grade, a requirement which already excludes a large number of Roma (see § 66 above). According to SEA data of August 2015, the educational level of 67.4% of registered unemployed Roma was lower than the compulsory
primary education and 20% of them did not possess reading and writing skills.85 There is a lack of programmes suitable for Roma who have such limited education. Attempts to persuade the SEA to develop and offer courses for participants with lower educational backgrounds have so far not yielded any success.

85 Ibid.: 5.

72. ECRI recommends that the authorities ensure that the State Employment Agency offers professional and vocational training also for persons with very low levels of formal education in order to benefit those members of the Roma community who have been hitherto excluded.


Document data: CRI(2019)1 adopted 04.12.2018 published 05.03.2019 Link: https://rm.coe.int/fifth-report-on-latvia/1680934a9f

ECRI 5th report on Latvia (excerpts on language), 2018

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

I Common topics

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4. Integration

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“Non-citizens”

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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.

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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.

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Refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection

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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.

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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

ECRI 5th report on Latvia (excerpts on religion), 2018

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

I Common topics

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2. Hate Speech17

17 According to ECRI’s GPR No. 15 on combating hate speech, “hate speech” shall mean the advocacy,promotion or incitement, in any form, of the denigration, hatred or vilification of a person or group of persons, as well as any harassment, insult, negative stereotyping, stigmatization or threat in respect of such a person or group of persons and the justification of all the preceding types of expression, on the ground of “race”, colour, descent, national or ethnic origin, age, disability, language, religion or belief, sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation and other personal characteristics or status

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Hate speech in political and other public discourse

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30. Following the terrorist attacks in France (2015) and Belgium (2016), an increase in Islamophobic rhetoric and hate speech was also noted in Latvia.27 In 2015, an Islamic cultural centre was targeted with graffiti.28 In the context of discussions about Latvia accepting EU quota refugees, further Islamophobic comments were observed, also equating refugees to terrorist threats and targeting migrants in general.29

27 ENAR (2017): 10.
28 OSCE / ODIHR (2018).
29 International Federation for Human Rights / Latvian Human Rights Committee (2016).

Hate speech on the Internet

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32. Extreme examples include the case of a Latvian entrepreneur who used the Internet for inciting racial hatred against dark-skinned persons and stating that he was prepared to shoot them. In another case, comments were posted calling for the burning of persons who have converted to Islam.32 The Jewish community also informed ECRI about a number of antisemitic Internet postings.

32 LCHR (30 June 2016).


Document data: CRI(2019)1 adopted 04.12.2018 published 05.03.2019 Link: https://rm.coe.int/fifth-report-on-latvia/1680934a9f

ECRI 5th report on Latvia (excerpts on integration), 2018

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

I Common topics

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4. Integration

General overview

50. Latvia has a long tradition of being a multi-ethnic country. According to the January 2017 data of the Central Statistical Bureau (CSB), the ethnic distribution of the Latvian population of 1 950116 persons included 62% Latvians, 25.4% Russians, 3.3% Belarusians, 2.2% Ukrainians, 2.1% Poles, 1.2% Lithuanians, 0.27% Roma, 0.25% Jewish, 0.13% Germans, 0.1% Estonians, as well as other smaller ethnic groups.52 In its last report on Latvia,53 ECRI recommended as a matter of priority that the authorities ensure that the then newly adopted Policy Guidelines for the Integration of Society in Latvia (the title of the final document was “Guidelines on National Identity, Civil Society and Integration Policy, 2012- 2018”) pave the way for a broad based programme focusing on antidiscrimination, an open and integrated society and concrete measures to implement it. ECRI further recommended that sufficient financial resources be allocated in a timely manner to implement the Guidelines and that civil society, national/ethnic minorities and local authorities be involved in its implementation.

52 Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia (2017): 32.
53 ECRI (2012): § 50

51. In its 2015 conclusions, ECRI considered this recommendation partially
implemented. An Action Plan for the implementation of the Guidelines had been formulated and awareness campaigns and training seminars for professionals to encourage tolerance and promote integration have taken place. Furthermore, outside of the Action Plan, the authorities provided a large number of free Latvian language courses to national/ethnic minorities and immigrants. However, ECRI expressed reservations about the proportion of external funds (such as EU and EEA grants) compared to state funding for projects and whether this funding would prove sufficient, as well as about the lack of strategic and conceptual links between the language courses and the Action Plan.54 ECRI considered that more should be done to ensure greater involvement of representatives of different
vulnerable groups in the implementation of the Guidelines.55

54 In this respect, ECRI notes positively that the authorities have made language courses a central element in their integration efforts for “non-citizens” (see § 60 below) as well as for newly arrived refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection (see § 78).
55 ECRI (2015): 5

52. The Guidelines define social integration as “inclusion of all people living in Latvia into society notwithstanding of their national belonging and self-identification” 56. The priorities of the guidelines are the development of civic society; strengthening civic participation; reducing the discrimination of socially marginalized groups and promoting their inclusion; increasing the role of the media in society integration through support for diverse, modern and high quality journalism; and improving the proficiency of Latvian among ethnic minorities, “non-citizens” and new immigrants. The Ministry of Culture has overall responsibility for national integration policy and related measures. Other stake-holders, including representatives of state media, are represented on the Monitoring board for the
implementation of the Guidelines. The authorities also plan to provide financial support to minority NGOs during the period 2018-2020 in order to organise multistakeholder conferences at local and regional level. This initiative aims at overcoming a certain lack of trust in the authorities among some minority groups.

56 Ministry of Culture (2012): 7.

53. While ECRI notes that additional state funds have been provided to support the implementation of the Action Plan57 and that the authorities have taken steps to involve various minority representatives more actively (cf. § 51 above), a certain policy principle contained in the guidelines seems to underpin government actions in a way that can easily run counter to promoting enhanced integration. In the Guidelines, the authorities underline their idea that “National identity is rooted in a common perception of a nation’s history. […] Divided social memory means a divided society. […] Ever since Latvia regained independence, a different perception of Soviet occupation and its consequences among a part of the Russian speaking population has become a significant challenge for building a
cohesive national and civic identity.”58 While ECRI fully understands the need for a national narrative, as part of a nation-building process after regaining independence, it would like to remind the authorities that diverging perceptions of the past are an important part of open societies. In this regard, it is vital to pursue a dialogue about the country’s history with various groups, including those that hold views which differ from the state-sponsored historiography, rather than engaging in a top-down politics of memory59 in which an official version of the country’s past is imposed, which might risk alienating rather than integrating certain groups into Latvian society.

57 In 2016, for example, the authorities provided an additional € 200 000 to the Latvian Language Centre for the development of language study aids, which are now in use.
58 Ministry of Culture (2012): 29.
59 Cf. ibid.: 31.

54. With regard to some specific issues concerning historical ethnic and national minorities, such as expressions of a separate identity (for example mother tongue education or minority language media) or their participation in public and political life, ECRI refers to the 3rd Opinion of the Council of Europe’s Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM), which carried out its last visit to Latvia in parallel to ECRI’s visit. The work of both monitoring bodies is based on mutual complementarity. The Advisory Committee also examined the situation of national minorities which are not covered in ECRI’s report.

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Roma

64. The Roma community in Latvia is relatively small; the CSB 2017 figures indicated 5191 persons.70 Roma associations, however, point out that many Roma do not volunteer information about their ethnic origin to the authorities due to persistent stigmatisation and prejudice against Roma in the public sphere. Roma NGOs estimate that the number might easily be two or three times as high.71 In 2012, in order to promote the integration policy for Roma, evaluate its implementation and increase participation of the Roma community, the authorities set up the Advisory Council for Implementation of the Roma Integration Policy. The Council consists of representatives from public bodies, local governments, NGOs and members of the Roma community.72 In 2015, the Society Integration Foundation
commissioned a research project on Roma in Latvia, which examined their
access to education, employment, health care and housing services. The report shows that although some progress has been made, for example in certain areas of health care (access to obstetrics and frequency of visits to family doctors73), Roma remain one of the most socially marginalised groups in the country.74 In spite of ECRI’s recommendation in its last report,75 the authorities decided not to adopt a new national Roma strategy, but instead opted for a general approach which aims at including Roma into existing mainstream integration policies and programmes. However, given the difficult situation of the Roma community76 and the existing barriers to accessing regular social integration programmes (see, for
example, § 71 below), ECRI encourages the authorities to closely monitor the effectiveness of their choice and to reconsider the decision if necessary.

70 Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia (2017): 32.
71 The Council of Europe estimates the number to be around 12 500. (See:
https://www.coe.int/en/web/portal/roma).
72 The Council implemented, for example, the project Latvian Roma platform I “Dialogue, cooperation and involvement”, which supported the dialogue between Roma groups, government and municipality institutions in order to ensure better coordination of integration measures for Roma at national, regional and local level.
73 Society Integration Foundation (SIF) / Market and Opinion Research Agency (2015): 7 and 81.
74 Ibid.: 3-5.
75 ECRI (2012): § 103.

76 See for example: EU Commission (2014).


Document data: CRI(2019)1 adopted 04.12.2018 published 05.03.2019 Link: https://rm.coe.int/fifth-report-on-latvia/1680934a9f

ECRI 5th report on Latvia (excerpts on citizenship), 2018

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

I Common topics

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4. Integration

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“Non-citizens”

55. According to the CSB January 2017 data, there were 222 847 so-called “noncitizens” residing in Latvia, accounting for 11.4% of the country’s population.60 The majority of them are ethnic Russians. They are a special category of persons, citizens of the former USSR who were residents in Latvia on 1 July 1991 and who do not possess citizenship of any other country.61 The term “non-citizens” does not cover foreign nationals. Although they do not have the same rights as citizens, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) points out that the “Non-citizens” enjoy the right to reside in Latvia ex lege and a set of rights and obligations generally beyond the rights prescribed by the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, including protection from removal, and as such the “Non-citizens” may currently be considered persons to whom the Convention does not apply in accordance with its Article 1.2(ii). 62

60 Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia (2017): 31.
61 However, the Latvian authorities point out that they do not know if any, and if so how many, “non-citizens” might indeed also hold Russian citizenship without having informed the Latvian authorities.
62 UNHCR (2016): 65, note 26.

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 “noncitizen” organisations.

57. The Latvian authorities underlined that instead of making the “non-citizen” status more equal to that of citizens,64 it is their stated aim to eventually abolish this category by promoting and facilitating naturalisations.65 To this end, they simplified citizenship registration at birth for children born to “non-citizens”. The request for Latvian citizenship for a new-born child now only needs to be made by one parent instead of both parents which was the case previously and which often caused practical difficulties. A legislative initiative launched in 2017 by the
President of Latvia for the automatic recognition of Latvian citizenship at birth for children born to “non-citizens” did, however, not succeed due to a lack of sufficient political support. Although the registration process at birth has been simplified, and subsequently the number of new-born “non-citizens” dropped to only 52 cases in 2016 and 23 in 2017,66 the question of automatic recognition remains of important symbolic value to “non-citizens”.67 A positive decision in this respect would stop children being born as “non-citizens” and also be a very helpful step towards better integration, as it would effectively signal the abolition of this population category in the long-term, as envisaged by the authorities.

64 Cf. ECRI’s recommendations in its 2012 report: §§ 123-128.
65 See also Ministry of Culture (2012): 19.
66 In these cases, no applications for Latvian citizenship were made.
67 Cf. ECRI (2012): § 122.

58. ECRI recommends, as a matter of priority, that the authorities provide for the automatic recognition of Latvian citizenship for children born to “non-citizens”.

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

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INTERIM FOLLOW-UP RECOMMENDATIONS

The two specific recommendations for which ECRI requests priority implementation from the authorities of Latvia are the following:
• ECRI recommends, as a matter of priority, that the authorities establish a unit within the State Police tasked with reaching out to vulnerable groups in order to increase trust in the police and address the problem of under-reporting of racist and homo-/transphobic hate crimes.
• ECRI recommends, as a matter of priority, that the authorities provide for the automatic recognition of Latvian citizenship for children born to “non-citizens”.
A process of interim follow-up for these two recommendations will be conducted by ECRI no later than two years following the publication of this report.


Document data: CRI(2019)1 adopted 04.12.2018 published 05.03.2019 Link: https://rm.coe.int/fifth-report-on-latvia/1680934a9f