EXPECTING REFUGEES IN LATVIA: REALISTIC AND SYMBOLIC THREATS
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In the light of a dramatic increase of illegal immigration in Europe, security issue has become a top priority in the politics of the European Union (EU) in 2015. The asylum crisis has shown that the future of the European project depends on the EU’s ability to cope with these new security challenges. The present study is an attempt to make an in-depth social psychological study on subjectively perceived realistic and symbolic threats posed by coming refugees on residents of Latvia. Although the asylum system in Latvia was established in 1998, the state has provided shelter to only 219 foreigners. Latvia receives the lowest number of asylum applications in the EU in both relative and absolute terms. Due to the fact that Latvia is about to receive 776 refugees in the next couple of years, the problem of refugees has become more visible and widely discussed in Latvian society. Although the factual experience of interaction with refugees reportedly does not exceed ten per cent of Latvian population, around 80% of Latvia shares negative attitudes towards refugees, which is the highest per cent in the EU. This situation requires scientifically based explanations and empirical examination. One thousand Latvian residents evenly representing Latvia’s demographic composition have participated in this study. Two modified Stephan’s realistic and symbolic threat questionnaires have been used in it. Symbolic and realistic threats both represent a cognitive component of attitudes towards refugees. The results illustrate how threatened Latvian society really is about its welfare, political and economic power, identities, beliefs, morals and values, and identify factors influencing the formation of prejudice. The study suggests that in order to find ways to reduce prejudice and increase the level of societal cohesion and integration in the long run there is a need for complex empirical research on prejudicial attitudes and the perceptions of acculturation strategies and orientations.
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