A total of 6,563 people emigrated from Latvia during the first five months of the year. In other words, 43 persons left the country every day in Jan-May.
The data, which is available in the Central Statistic Bureau’s website, is likely to increase, for the number of emigrants during the month of June is yet to be published.
The figures may help to explain the ‘unexpected’ shrinkage of population in the small Baltic country, which will be confirmed as soon as the Government releases the results of the population census carried out from March to May.
Latvia took one of the sharpest economic downturns in the world in 2008. The Baltic country had to ask for an external bailout to face the impact of the global economic crisis. Although growth is slowly picking up, the country is still paying a high human toll.
The Latvian authorities expected to reach 2,3 million people, however this number has proved to be far too optimistic. The decline in population varies, but it goes from the 150,000 – positive ones – to up to 300,000 – more pessimistic.
Roberts Zile, chairman of Latvia’s ‘For Fatherland and Freedom’/LNNK party and MEP in the new European Conservatives and Reformists party, confirmed the above figures and said; “It is a bit worrying because we may have lost some 300 thousand inhabitants and the country does need them.
“In a moment of economic recovery, we need labour and that means that if we do not have we will need immigrants.”
But a call for immigrants is not as easy as it could seem. Latvian society is not fully integrated and is still dragging on post Soviet traumas. Thus, integrating newcomers may prove a tough challenge for both the Latvian government and its society.
“There is an important lack of skilled labour in certain sectors right now,” said Nils Muižnieks, director of the Advanced Social and Political Research Institute of the University of Latvia.
“Some investor have showed eagerness in investing money in the country, but they have not done so because there is a lack of workers.
“The Government could either shrink the services provided by the state, something that happened in East Germany when a lot of people left for West Germany, or try to attract immigrants. The latter would be the easiest one, but it would also imply measures to integrate them in our society.
“Latvians living abroad should also be a target for the authorities. Nevertheless, any call right now for them to return back home would be unconvincing until the economy starts growing again and the country has another political culture, not as alienating as it is now.”
(*) This article has also been published in The Baltic Review