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Lithuania: EU resettlement programme triggers national social inclusion challenges

While the country is implementing EU's resettlement programme, new challenges are emerging. For instance, the fact that Lithuanian education institutions that will receive refugee children will get 30 % more financing than those hosting other children led to controversy. However, according to Vice Minister of Education and Science Natalja Istomina, such financing is needed to hire specialists, which will assure better integration of refugee children in the Lithuanian education system. An other example is the Migration Department refusing to grant the refugee status to the first resettled family from Iraq. After subsidiary protection was granted, the family sued Lithuania for not fulfilling its obligations. This reaction triggered intense debates and Vice Minister of Interior Elvinas Jankevičius indicated that Lithuania never promised to grant refugee status for resettled individuals.  

In parallel, discussions about the possibilities to resettle refugees emerged in municipalities. Lithuania's second largest city Kaunas, for instance, started preparing a system to accept and integrate refugees. A meeting was organised, encompassing the municipal council, NGOs and other relevant stakeholders. In other municipalities, such as the third largest city Klaipeda, commitments were concentrated on security and cultural issues, including training for police officers. Furthermore, due to the extremely small number of resettled persons, Vice-Chancellor of the Government Rimantas Vaitkus expressed his doubts on Lithuania's and EU's ability to implement the resettlement programme. A citizen initiative with the aim to amend the Law on the Legal status of Aliens also came out. Initiators have indicated that by this law, Lithuania took the responsibility to resettle ‘all illegal immigrants’, without paying attention to its Constitution, where security, welfare and fundamental rights and freedoms are emphasised.

Resistance towards refugee resettlement could be explained by societal attitudes towards immigrants and refugees. According to the newest public opinion polls, after terrorist attacks in Paris, attitudes towards immigration in general and refugees in particular became significantly negative. As experts from the Institute for Ethnic Studies have indicated, on one hand, a hierarchy of constant (negative) attitudes prevails in the society while on the other hand, the society is not well informed about the immigration processes in Lithuania. Mass media are perhaps the most important and mostly widespread form of public contacts with immigrants. So, it can be argued that the information provided by mass media and the attitudes prevailing in the public discourse have bigger importance to the approach in respect of immigrants so far than the social contacts (e.g. direct contacts and everyday-based experience). Another study has confirmed cultural negative attitudes towards immigrants coming to Lithuania. For example, society is much more willing to accept immigrants from “culturally close” countries, or in other words, immigrants with the same race and ethnicity. Such trend was also identified by the above mentioned research, implemented by the Institute for Ethnic Studies.

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