In the three and a half weeks since Russia attacked Ukraine on February 24, fewer Ukrainian refugees have sought help from the state or local governments in Latvia than in Estonia. Unlike Estonia, however, Latvia has not reinstated full checks at its border with Lithuania, due to which it doesn't have the same precise overview regarding the number of refugees that have arrived in the country from Ukraine.
The refugee center located at Riga Congress Center was closed over the past weekend, based on the Latvian state's logic that documents are processed during working hours. A hotline for accommodations, food or other urgent needs, however, is available 24 hours a day.
The Latvian refugee reception center is relocating from the Congress Center to a more spacious former technical college building located next to Riga City Hall; an information center will remain open at the previous location.
As of Sunday, a total of 6,200 war refugees have been registered in the Latvian capital. Among them, 800 children have needed spots in schools, including 360 in kindergartens, and 1,000 refugees have sought crisis aid. The overall figures in Latvia are slightly higher.
Based on the new arrivals at the reception center in Riga, refugees from Ukraine are interested in heading to specific countries if and where relatives or other acquaintances are already living, but many have reached Latvia open to seeking refuge wherever they can.
While Estonia has reinstated border checks along its southern border with Latvia, allowing the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) to track exactly who is entering the country, Latvia has not done the same along its own southern border with Lithuania. As a result, Latvia does not have the same precise overview regarding how many Ukrainian refugees have entered the country.
According to Riga Deputy Mayor Linda Ozola, the law has taken into account that Latvia must be prepared to accept 10,000 Ukrainian civilians.
"But I am sure that these 10,000 [people] have already arrived in Latvia by now," Ozola said. "They just haven't all come to ask for help."
As the number of refugees fleeing Ukraine continues to rise, it is difficult to determine on what basis they are deciding what country to flee to. In many cases, however, they haven't had a choice in the matter.
"People have arrived here without even knowing themselves how they got here," Lara Propapenko said. "They were just brought here. They were fleeing war."
According to calculations by the Latvian government, providing three months of aid to 10,000 refugees from Ukraine will cost the state €27 million.
Twice as many refugees in Estonia
As of Sunday night, 21,014 refugees have arrived in Estonia from Ukraine since February 24, according to PPA figures. The majority of these refugees are currently staying with friends or family, but 5,602 people have also sought help from the government to find accommodations.
Thus far, 3,995 applications for temporary protection have been submitted to the PPA.
Editor: Aili Vahtla