Latvian volunteers tackle prejudice against refugees


On a Saturday night in Riga, Egils Grasmanis
is gathering toys and games. The group he founded a few months ago, called
“I want to help refugees” is preparing an event for asylum seekers. – We are bringing all the asylum seekers from Mucenieki over here. We are going to bake
gingerbread, there are going to be some workshops for kids, and some socializing. It’s a socializing
event. Around 70 asylum seekers live in the country’s
only reception center here in Mucenieki, a village outside Riga.
– I have lived in this hostel for six months and I don’t know anything about Riga. These
people one time before took us here and made us food. They brought us together with Latvian
people and they were very nice with us. In the past 20 years, very few refugees have
come to Latvia, but under the EU’s new relocation scheme, almost 800 could arrive here this
year and next. Hosam Abu Meri came to Latvia in 1993, he
works as a doctor and is also a member of the Latvian parliament. He welcomes the arrival
of asylum-seekers and says that Latvia is prepared. – We have special integration plan for them that they are going to start to study Latvian
language, the Latvian culture and the Latvian history, because our plan is that people have
to integrate as soon as possible in the Latvian society, in order to get an opportunity to
find a good job. The reception center provides daily language
lessons, but refugees still find it hard to get out and meet local people. This is something Grasmanis and his
friends wants to change, in part with events like todays gingerbread
baking. – Hi, Nice to meet you. – You know, I am not sure about like big policies or anything. But as I see it everybody should
do whatever they can to help, and if everybody will do just that, then it should work. – Everybody has to do their share, and there are a lot of people that are here but there
will be more people that are coming. It’s good to spread the word and actually show
Latvian society that these are human beings. They are refugees, they may be economic migrants,
they are different kinds of people, but they are people and that’s what matters. – This is our life, we didn’t take this risk just to get better a life or come here
to take money or get some help. This is not true. We had a good life in Syria, but this
war changed everything, we ran away from our country not for money or for some help. We
just want peace, we want to live in peace, that’s all. – I think we don’t have refugees crisis to be honest. I think we have political crisis
related to refugees. I think the Latvian society has not really been exposed to refugees. I
think you just need to lower it to a human level and that’s when you can start to relate
to them and you can understand they are the same human beings and your help does not cost
you anything. It’s just human.

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