Social orientation in Latvia
Social orientation activities in Latvia are provided in the framework of societal integration policy according to Guidelines on National Identity, Civil Society and Integration Policy for 2012-2018. Main coordinating institution is the Ministry of Culture. Target groups for societal integration activities so far have been third country nationals and beneficiaries of international protection. However, social orientation activities of third country nationals have been sporadic, mostly provided as individual consultations in the framework of Information Centre for Immigrants. Social orientation activities for beneficiaries of international protection have become more comprehensive since 2015.
In general, state funded social orientation courses are provided for asylum seekers during their initial reception phase. Throughout the initial 3 month period, all asylum seekers are provided a course of 10 lectures that cover common topics related to the everyday life in Latvia, including information about Latvian history, social structure, most common language phrases, etc. Currently the course is being provided by an NGO “Shelter “Safe House”” and is funded by AMIF and state budget.
Additional social orientation for asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection is provided during language courses and with the help of social mentorship. During the initial reception phase, all asylum seekers have access to 120 hours of Latvian language introduction course. The aim of this course is to introduce newcomers to common and basic phrases in Latvian, and as a result allow for better understanding of Latvian culture and society throughout the examination of various social interactions. Similarly, social mentorship is available for all beneficiaries of international protection for up to a year after being granted international protection status. Each beneficiary of international protection is assigned an individual mentor who works directly with them starting from their arrival at the temporary reception centre. Assistance provided by mentors focuses mostly on practical support – access to banking and allowance payments, visits to doctor, search for housing, which also provides valuable input to social orientation of beneficiaries of international protection. Latvian language course is provided by State Language Agency and is funded by AMIF, while services of social workers and social mentors are provided by an NGO “Shelter “Safe House”” and are funded from European Social Fund.
Additional language learning courses are available for beneficiaries of international protection after receiving protection status and while searching for employment, having access to up to 720 hours of language courses, provided by State Employment Agency and funded from the state budget. These courses are available in various language learning centres and can be redeemed using a voucher system.
Lastly, various local NGOs play an important role in the overall social orientation and integration process of newcomers. For example, “I want to help refugees” has created a Facebook community with the aim of providing practical assistance and support for beneficiaries of international protection. Its activities also include social integration events providing an opportunity for interaction between locals and newcomers.