Ilze Petersone-Godmane (Photo source: leta.lv)

Refugees could be returned from Latvia to their home countries: Interior Ministry official

RIGAMore refugees arrived in Latvia yesterday but Interior Ministry official says they could be returned home once conflicts are over.

A second group of refugees from Iraq and Syria – four families, a total of 15 people, including seven children – arrived in Latvia yesterday under the European Union’s refugee relocation programme, the LETA news agency reported.

Latvia is set to receive 481 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy by the end of 2017  as part of the EU’s relocation programme. In addition, the government has agreed to resettle another 50 refugees from outside the EU. The first six refugees – two families from Eritrea and Syria – arrived in Riga in February.

However, Interior Ministry State Secretary Ilze Pētersone-Godmane yesterday claimed that in the event of a halt in conflict, their refugee status would be reviewed and they may have to return to their home country, the Baltic Times reported. According to Pētersone-Godmane, the status of refugees who fled the Balkan wars during the 1990s is currently hotly debated in Germany. She asserted that according to German law they would have to return.

Pētersone-Godmane is correct that under the EU program there are no specific provisions about the exact status asylum seekers relocated from Greece and Italy will need to be provided by host countries. The Interior Ministry State Secretary is also right when she says that refugees may be returned to their home countries once conflicts are over.

Refugee (Geneva Convention) status versus subsidiary and humanitarian protection

Formally recognised refugees are judged to be facing a “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership of a particular social group” and for these reasons are unwilling or unable to return to their home country. So-called “subsidiary protection” applies to those who do not qualify as refugees but would “face a real risk of suffering serious harm” if returned to their country of origin. Finally, rejected asylum seekers can be allowed to stay temporarily on “humanitarian status” to protect individuals such as the terminally ill or unaccompanied minors.

The table below illustrates the status of those granted international protection last year. The cross-country variance is striking: Germany granted 97 per cent of asylum seekers Refugee (Geneva Convention) status but Slovakia only six percent. The difference can be explained by different asylum policies, not the characteristics of asylum seekers themselves.

Typically, recognised refugees receive a temporary residence permit for three years, after which the government can indeed review the situation of the country of origin. (Those with “subsidiary” and “humanitarian” protection usually receive a one-year temporary residence.)

Yet it is unclear what debate in Germany the Interior Ministry State Secretary is referring to. The European refugee crisis of the 1990s displaced 2.5 million in the former Yugoslavia and its successor states. The 350,000 refugees from Bosnia-Herzegovina who fled to Germany were only provided temporary protection status, because European neighbours were not willing to provide them long-term asylum. Their cases were also not individually reviewed, as is required under the Refugee Convention. This meant that they were immediately repatriated after the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement. Most, if not all, of the Bosnian war refugees returned, resettled in the United States or have become German citizens.

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