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Lithuania: Ongoing discussions and public perception on refugee resettlement and integration

After the announcement of the new number of refugees ((1105) that will be resettled in Lithuania, discussions about integration challenges emerged. Nevertheless, the President indicated that the number is acceptable and that Lithuania will take this responsibility seriously. The Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevičius also indicated that he does not see any risk related to refugee resettlement and integration but did express concerns that some "powers" might show resistance towards refugee resettlement and integration. Therefore, mobilisation of local communities and mass media is a needed. 

Consequently, When the Government approved the new number of refugees, some political parties started a debate about possible restrictions. For example, Lithuanian Labour Party suggested that refugee resettlement numbers should be regulated by the Parliament, not the Government. While former Prime Minister, Socialdemocrat Gediminas Kirkilas emphasised that there is no need to regulate quota systems by the Parliament. In addition, some other significant institutional developments were discussed. For example, the idea of closing the Migration Department under the Ministry of the Interior is very much questioned and to the latest information, the Department will not be closed. 

In parallel with political debates, the business sector triggered discussions on issues related to refugee integration in the labour market. Some representatives of business sector, such as Robertas Dargis, indicated that Lithuania has no integration strategy and that now is the time to create one. In the meantime, the Minister of Finances Rimantas Sadžius indicated that additional funding for refugees resettlement and integration will be foreseen in the budget of the year 2016. 

Some challenging refugee integration aspects such as housing are also discussed. According to the Minister of Social Security and Labour Algimanta Pabedinskienė, it will be difficult to find accommodation for refugees. That is why nongovernmental organisations started registration campaigns, where people could indicated that they could accommodate refugees. Eventually, some municipalities, as Palanga, emphasised that they will not accept refugees due to very high prices of the real estate. From the 60 announced, only 12 municipalities agreed to integrate refuges. Facing these refugee integration challenges, the Government decided to initiate and establish a new working group that will deal will refugee resettlement and integration. The Minister of Interior announced the plan of refugee resettlement, where some indicators of selection were indicated. 

Contrary to political debates, new citizens initiatives, related to welcoming refugees emerged, as the number of people willing to help and accommodate refugees increased. The initiative ‘Refugees Welcome’ succeeded to gather many people in Vincas Kudirka square (in Vilnius) to show their support to refugees. Also, different universities in Lithuania announced that they would allow refugees to study in universities free of charge. While Lithuanian Tatars also expressed solidarity with an aim to help refugees to settle in the country, some information related to good refugee integration practices emerged in the media, with the aim of raising awareness about refugee situation in the European Union and Lithuania. Read more here, here and here