Minority Ombudsman calls for investigation of possible human trafficking among Roma beggars
Head of day centre downplays suspicions
Finland’s Ombudsman for Minorities, Eva Biaudet, says that the police need to actively investigate suspicions that the activities of Romanian and Bulgarian Roma coming to Finland to beg on the streets might involve aspects of trafficking in humans.
The Swedish-language newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet reported on Sunday that men wearing suits driving expensive cars have been seen in front of the service centre set up for the Roma in Helsinki, collecting money from the beggars. Biaudet and the police see clear indications of human trafficking in this.
“When men in BMWs start showing up, my alarm bells start ringing”, Biaudet says.
People living near the service centre in the Sörnäinen district of Helsinki told Hufvudstadsbladet that a number of cars with foreign number plates have been spotted in front of the centre.
The newspaper’s reporters also witnessed a situation in which a beggar woman gave money to a man dressed in a suit coming out of a BMW.
Police say that they have not witnessed similar activities, but they have suspected that those begging on the streets do not get to keep the money that they get.
The director of the centre, which is run by the Helsinki Deaconess institute, downplays suspicions of human trafficking, saying that the women are simply repaying the men for travel money.
“There is nothing new about this. The women are paying the men for a trip bought from Romania, because they cannot afford to pay it in Romania”, says Pekka Tuomola, director of the day centre.
However, Biaudet says that the situation described by Tuomola also has the hallmarks of trafficking.
“Trafficking in humans often involves big debts. If a person has to beg from morning to evening in order to pay off a debt under intimidation, then the situation is pretty bad. Naturally not all begging involves trafficking in humans, and not all of the people are victims. However, there are clear indications of trafficking in humans here.
Biaudet has urged police and civic groups to cooperate in helping the victims of possible human trafficking.
“It might be hard for a possible victim to be the first to work with police. Therefore, civic organisations should create trusting relationships with the victims so that information might be passed on.”
Concern has been raised this summer about the plight of the children of Roma beggars, up to 60 of whom have been visiting the day centre.
The Social Services Department of the City of Helsinki held an information event for Bulgarian Roma in cooperation with the Bulgarian Embassy. From 2007, about three Roma children from Bulgaria and about ten from Romania have been taken into urgent foster care.
A 16-year-old Romanian girl who was taken into urgent care in May is still in the custody of the Social Services Department. She had been the victim of pimping, and plans for her safe return to Romania are under way.
Stubb discusses Schengen, Roma beggars during visit to Romania (4.4.2012)
Cashing in by housing itinerant Roma (14.2.2012)
Roma beggars meticulously guard Helsinki turf (1.11.2011)