Coalition meetings and advocacy in Latvia
In 2020, the think tank PROVIDUS organised four national coalition meetings as part of the NIEM research project with the aim of highlighting certain integration policy issues and seeking shared positions to advocate on a political level. Due to the measures introduced in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, all of the meetings took place online which enabled a higher participation than usual: around 20-25 people attended each meeting representing all the stakeholders – the ministries, municipal authorities and non-governmental organisations.
The focus of the meetings was variably broad and specific. The first meeting – held in April – looked at the way the Covid-19 pandemic had impacted beneficiaries of international protection. Education figured as one of the more notable challenges and during the meeting an agreement was reached between the asylum centre and the NGO “Shelter “Safe House”” to provide online learning opportunities to asylum seekers residing in the centre. A series of recommendations were made to several ministries regarding the need for an official action plan should there be an outbreak in the asylum centre; a call to extend benefits to those who had been receiving them before and since the state of emergency and to ensure the availability of a teaching assistant working online.
The second meeting was used to promote the publication of the NIEM National Report where Providus had identified several key challenges in the integration system based on the analysis of the secondary movement. These were also presented later in the year to the Parliamentary Commission on Social Cohesion and advocated several policy changes. For one, the need to link the available support to the status of international protection rather than the residency permit was highlighted. Additionally, an argument was made that the condition of having a registered address at the municipality in order to receive housing support should be abolished.
The latter two meetings of the year were more specific in terms of the issues discussed. The political situation in Belarus forced the issue of integration into the political agenda again, since it was acknowledged that a new stream of Belarussian refugees was likely. This was the topic of the coalition meeting in October. Several communication issues with people wishing to move to Latvia were highlighted, for example, the necessity to clearly explain the sequence of the integration system; the different legal statuses with their respective rights and responsibilities; the rules surrounding employment opportunities, etc. The latter issue was especially urgent since many Belarussians wished to be swiftly allowed to work officially but the integration system stipulated a six month waiting period. In part, thanks to the work of the coalition partners, a new legislative initiative has been developed to reduce this period to three months. A protocol of the meeting was submitted to the Parliamentary Commission on Human Rights.
Finally, in the last meeting of the year in December, the partners discussed issues that had surfaced as problematic in the work done by NGOs servicing the needs of beneficiaries of international protection. It was noted that one of the most important issues is the lack of coordination between ministries, municipalities and other stakeholders. The Ministry of Welfare used to convene quarterly meetings to discuss the way strategy and policy work in practice which enabled shared problem-solving and regular updates but these have ceased to function since June 2019. PROVIDUS submitted an official letter to the Ministry of Welfare requesting clarification which was further underscored by the Parliamentary Commission on Social Cohesion demanding that such a meeting be convened again. Advocating an improved and relevant coordination plan is one of the key policy goals PROVIDUS has set out for 2021.
To conclude, the coalition meetings facilitated by PROVIDUS have been immensely useful for bringing together all of the stakeholders of the integration system, serving as a platform for sharing information, solving issues where possible and cultivating a united policy position on several problems between the different stakeholders.