The author of the interview: Liga Salnite (Līga Salnite). The author of the photos: Marta Martinsone-Kasa (Marta Martinsone-Kaša)
A helping hand to newcomers. For almost two years Baiba Zalcmane (Baiba Zalcmane) has been the person in Vidzeme, Cesis any foreigner, who has come to Latvia, can turn to in a difficult situation.
The Information Centre for Newcomers (ICN) focal point “Vidzeme” in Cesis has moved to new premises. It was created two years ago as a universal support point for third country nationals in Vidzeme.
200 third country nationals, who have come to Vidzeme, have requested assistance and visited the focal point in Cesis since it was established. The centre`s representative in the matters of communication Rasa Salina (Rasa Saliņa) emphasized that the average number of visitors has remained constant. The head of the focal point “Vidzeme” Baiba Zalcmane, who has met every immigrant in person, tells that life stories of newcomers, who arrive in Vidzeme, differ greatly. “Some people come to Latvia because of their business plans, some arrive due to new family relations, foreigners studying in Latvia and participants of experience sharing programmes or even retired couples, who have decided to live out the rest of their lives in a peaceful and quiet environment, come to us,” tells the head of ICN focal point “Vidzeme” to illustrate the fact that there are customers from different age groups, with different mentality and very diverse needs.
Most often questions about purchasing real estate in Latvia, conditions for obtaining a residence permit, employment opportunities after graduating in Latvia and about health care in Latvia were answered at Vidzeme focal point. The head of ICN “Vidzeme” confirms that most of the difficult situations were related to the last issue. There are still difficulties with arranging urgent visits to a family practitioner or a specialist doctor, who would not doubt his or her expertise in accepting patients of a more exotic origin, in acute cases in the region, even if an interpreter is provided. However, all difficulties have been resolved, including a birth with the help of a Chinese interpreter and interpreter coordinator. Preparations for the event became one of the most memorable experiences of 2016 for the whole team.
Those, who have long-term plans, are most interested in integration activities and attending language courses, but Baiba also works on promotion of sharing of cultural experiences. Last year after hearing questions about “branches on the head, beer and songs” for the nth time she decided to organise Jāņi celebration in Cesis Castle Park for foreigners. They were very glad about the opportunity – immigrants from China even took over and organised an event for Latvians, during which they presented their culture and traditions.
“There can be a number of difficulties, like the ones I mentioned before related to health care or even fraud, when a foreigner was sold a non-functioning enterprise, however, dissatisfaction or complaints about life here are rare. There are situations, which we help to resolve,” shares her experience B.Zalcmane.
For a little more than a half-year ICN was located in a building on Rigas Street in the Old Town, but it has just moved to the office complex on Plavas Street. B.Zalcmane notes that they had to move to new premises because of the environmental accessibility requirements – this building has an elevator, which is mandatory in case persons with reduced mobility require a consultation.
“To our regret the word “immigrant” has acquired a negative taint in Latvian society. People do not analyse critically information in mass media and make their conclusions based on it,” shares her thoughts the experienced employee and admits that prejudice against any stranger with a bit more exotic appearance, who has come to Latvia, is not rare. B.Zalcmane mentioned a Chinese girl, a pupil of the secondary school, who surprised her pleasantly. The girl called on the phone to schedule a meeting and the head of ICN did not immediately believe, what she was told, because they talked in clear Latvian, and her accent could barely be discerned. The girl had attended school in Latvia for approximately two years and was looking for an opportunity to acquire her first work experience. The head of ICN focal point remembers the last summer as a very positive and fruitful collaboration experience, while the girl assisted with direct translation during all events and assignments for the duration of almost three months.
All services at ICN focal points are provided in three languages – Latvian, Russian and English. Interpreters or speakers of rare languages are involved, as necessary.
In summer 2016 such information and free assistance focal points for newcomers were established in Riga and in all four regions of Latvia co-financed by the European Union (EU). The aim was to create a one-stop agency to provide wide-ranging support to foreign nationals and advice to service providers from various industries, as well as specialists working with this target group. Thus a foreigner, who is not a citizen of the EU, European Economic Area countries or the Swiss Confederation, is entitled to receive support in resolving practical matters, including interpreter`s services and legal consultations, and to receive support for smoother integration in Latvia. Advice is provided regardless of the fact, if the person has moved to Latvia recently or lives here longer, and even in cases they have arrived for only a short period of time, explains Baiba Zalcmane. Newcomers can find information about it also on the website www.integration.lv.
The Information Centre for Newcomers is co-financed by the European Union. NGO “Shelter “Safe House”” ensures and develops the activities of the centre until 30 June 2020. Grant Agreement No. PMIF/12/2017/2/01.
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