In the preceding articles, an analysis was conducted on the advancement of policies related to inclusion, equality and diversity for migrants in European higher education, focusing in the last post on their implementation in Turkey. The latter had recently experienced an increase in young immigrants, which led to the implementation of additional frameworks by universities to enhance the inclusion of newcomers. In continuation of this discourse, our focus today shifts to Latvia, where a comparable scenario has unfolded. Indeed, Latvia has experienced a notable increase in migrant arrivals, partly attributed to the outbreak of the conflict in Ukraine. Within this context we will examine how this country is managing the integration of immigrants particularly into the university environment.

It is firstly necessary to highlight that, despite Latvia’s historical identity as a country of emigration rather than immigration, the COVID-19 pandemic and the conflict in Ukraine led to a surge in migrants and refugees seeking asylum and opportunities within Latvia. UNHCR[1] states that until September 2023, there are 45,239 refugees primarily from Ukraine (43,843) and migrant population stood at approximately 238,300 third-country nationals. Notably, the influx of asylum seekers and refugees underscores the evolving demographic dynamics, demonstrating the need to implement new and more efficient integration policies.

The rapid demographic changes have necessitated a swift response, resulting in a gap in the creation of new, consolidated inclusion policies, compounded by political and social factors that have further complicated the situation. Indeed, Latvia’s relatively homogenous population and limited exposure to large numbers of migrants may also shape policymakers’ perceptions and strategic agendas regarding immigrant inclusion. In support of the previous statements, The Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX)[2] indicates that Latvia’s approach is primarily oriented towards affording basic rights, without ensuring equitable opportunities analogous to those enjoyed by domestic residents, thereby delineating an inconsistency between policy rhetoric and practical implementation.

Nevertheless, it is undeniable that some advancements have been achieved over the past four years, particularly through collaborative initiatives with the European Union and the United Nations aimed at fostering adherence to DEI principles In fact, Latvia has only one informal integration program for third country nationals, funded by the EU Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) and overseen by the Ministry of Culture, which promotes language courses, integration courses, individual consultations on the issues of employment, education, migration, legal matters etc. and psychological services. However, there are no specific action plans in Latvia tailored to individual target groups, such as foreigners, migrants, and asylum seekers. This deficiency hinders the development and implementation of more efficient and contextually appropriate strategies for each distinct group.

With regard to higher education, in acknowledgment of the escalating presence of migrant students, there have been various initiatives aimed at facilitating their academic pursuits and fostering integration with local students.

Among the principal challenges identified lies the issue of language proficiency, particularly in Latvian. In response, initiatives have been proposed to augment the provision of English and Latvian language courses for migrants, offered without charge and accessible beyond urban centers, with flexible scheduling to accommodate diverse participants’ availability. In terms of admission requirements, Latvian universities typically maintain a permissive stance, refraining from imposing stringent restrictions on migrant student enrollment. However, according to the European Website on Integration[1], the availability of university scholarships appears relatively limited. While programs like the ‘Procedures for Granting Scholarships to Foreigners’ exist, these are very few and predominantly designed only to asylum seekers. 

Picture by Amy Elting

Furthermore, it is crucial to highlight the concomitant increase in intolerance towards resident immigrants and asylum seekers, in a context of growing multiculturalism in the country. The Latvian Centre for Human Rights[1] has identified a prevailing lack of refugees’ reception, as well as a high rate of racism and discrimination, often culminating in physical and verbal violence. Within the university context, concerted efforts are underway to address this problem, mainly through teacher training initiatives. Faculty members participate in seminars and workshops aimed at deepening their understanding of relevant issues including stereotypes, prejudice, intolerance, hate speech, misinformation, and freedom of expression. In addition, they are equipped with a range of techniques aimed at facilitating discussions with students, mitigating manifestations of intolerance and hostility. However, the scope of these teacher-oriented activities remains somewhat limited; increasing them has the potential to help reduce tensions.

Based on the analysis developed in this post, it can be asserted that the integration efforts for migrants in Latvia are quite recent, encompassing both policy interventions favoring migrants and scholarly inquiries examining this subject. Consequently, recognizing the recent emergence of these dynamics, our organization has submitted a proposal for a collaborative project on migrant inclusion in higher education, in conjunction with the University of Riga. Indeed, the latter appears to be a promising collaborator for our project given its demonstrated expertise in disability inclusion policies within university contexts. Consequently, this expertise could be effectively applied to enhance the development of DEI policies for migrants, gaining also new insights and enriching its research in migrant inclusion.

As we transition to the next post’s topic, it is noteworthy to contrast Latvia’s recent engagement with migration issues with the longstanding history of migration management and policy implementation in Belgium. This stark historical difference provides the context for our next exploration of DEI policies, as we delve into the landscape of inclusion efforts within Belgian universities.





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