In the Baltic States, refugee resettlement works only in Estonia

Protesters with posters at Government house in Riga, Latvia, 04 August 2015.VALDA KALNINA

Members of parliament from the ruling right-wing nationalist National Alliance along with several public organizations organized a protest against a plan to resettle 250 refugees in Latvia.

Relocation does not work without welfare support


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The European Commission’s mandatory relocation plan cannot work without welfare support, the experience of the Baltic States indicates.

The EU is struggling to implement the mandatory relocation of 160,000 refugees that was agreed upon in September 2015. Only 7,000 refugees have been resettled over the last year. So far, the tiny quota assigned to the Baltic States has proven irrelevant. Iraqi and Syrian refugees move to richer EU member states as soon as they have the chance, Reuters reports. The only exception is Estonia.

Soon after the migrants are granted refugee status in Lithuania and Latvia they leave. According to the Red Cross, half the resettled refugee population has already left Latvia, mostly for Germany.

The issue at hand is that the mandatory relocation program offers asylum seekers safe passage and the right to residence, but provides no guarantee of employment and housing. Without a tradition of immigration and local language skills, refugees find the labour market particularly hostile.

Visegrad states refuse to take in their quota, calculated on the basis of GDP and unemployment. The Baltic States have reluctantly conceded, but are unwilling to invest in welfare support that is seen as more generous as that offered to the general population. Lithuania, for example, will pay €450 to a family of four for six months; thereafter, payments are halved.

Estonia is in this respect exceptional, offering free accommodation and income support for two years. All of its 77 resettled refugees have remained in place.

Under EU rules, refugees are not allowed to work or apply for welfare benefits in any other EU member state other than the one to which they were assigned. If they are arrested, they will be deported to the country they were originally allocated.

However, many, if not most, are willing to take their chances.

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