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Discrimination is a factor in Eastern European migration waves

The failure of some of the EU’s newest member states to respect their own ethnic minorities is fuelling migration to Britain, new research has revealed.

The research, carried out by GEP — the Global Economic Policy Centre — at The University of Nottingham shows Russian-speaking minorities in Latvia are much more likely to emigrate, because their mother tongue is not officially recognised by the state. Economists say similar problems in other Eastern European countries could be helping to drive the population move west.

GEP economist, Dr Tom Ivlevs said: “If the EU and A8 countries want to limit migration they should be looking to tackle this problem by introducing more efficient minority integration policies in Eastern Europe so these people feel less discriminated against.”

The A8 countries are those Eastern European nations that joined the EU in 2004: the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia.

Dr Ivlev’s research in Latvia showed that rather than being forced to learn the state language, many Russian-speaking Latvians would prefer to move to another country offering better prospects — and learn a language like English instead.

New analysis of survey data from December 2005 showed that nearly one in ten of Latvia’s 2.3 million population expected to emigrate. Dr Ivlevs found that among these, in the productive 35-44 year age group for instance, Russian speakers were more than twice as likely as Latvians to want to emigrate.

Dr Ivlevs said: “To a large extent, the example of Latvia can be generalised to other A8 countries where there are significant minority communities.

“A minor discrimination of any character, be it ethnic, linguistic, racial or religious, may lead to higher rates of emigration in minority representatives —and in certain cases the most skilled ones.”

He said all new EU member and accession states are required to ensure the integration, respect and non-discrimination of ethnic and linguistic minorities.

“In Latvia, minority schools are subsidised by the state and these support and encourage the learning of ethnic minority languages like Russian but at the expense of the state language. The problem is that only one language is recognised in the labour market — especially in the public sector — and that is Latvian. When these students graduate they are often highly skilled but find their mother tongue is not recognised in the workplace which leads them to be disadvantaged and increases their motivation to emigrate.”

The country, one of the A8 nations that joined the EU three years ago in its largest single expansion since its founding in 1957, is among the poorest in the Union. Some 41% of the population is made up of ethnic minorities, many of them former immigrants who arrived from Russia and other former Soviet republics between 1945 and 1991, and their descendants.

Dr Ivlevs believes Latvia has suffered a “minority brain-drain” — and that similar nations have suffered the same fate.

Dr Ivlevs warned: “This analysis is relevant to almost all Central and Eastern European countries that have recently joined the EU or expect to become a member in the future.”

Historically, the populations of these countries have comprised people with different ethnic, linguistic or religious origins. Some six million out of 75 million — or eight per cent — of A8 Europeans speak a minority language in their country.

Dr Ivlevs said: “In the two newest members of the EU — Bulgaria and Romania — ethnic minorities make up between 10 per cent and 15 per cent of the population, suggesting that given the opportunity a significant number will want to move to Britain and other Western European states.”

Emma Thorne | alfa
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