Nordic Countries seek solution to itinerant beggar problem
Call to pressure Romania to help Roma at home
The Nordic Countries are considering working together to seek a solution to the phenomenon of foreign beggars in their countries.
Bo Lindroos, a high-ranking diplomat at the Finnish Embassy in Stockholm, has proposed cooperation among the countries to pressure Romania through the European Union.
The proposal came up on Friday during a visit by representatives of Helsinki and other large Finnish cities to Stockholm. Finnish police and security officials of the cities came to Stockholm to collect information about experiences that Sweden has had with the problem of foreign mendicants, mainly members of the Roma community of Romania.
"Perhaps it would be good to convene a joint-Nordic ministerial level group which would influence the EU", Lindroos said. "At the very least it would be possible to name contact persons to communicate experiences of Finnish and Swedish cities, so that the matter might not be left at what we talk about here."
Media reports in Sweden have suggested that East Europeans who appear to be dirt poor sometimes get fairly large sums of money while panhandling. Partly for this reason, Swedish generosity toward the beggars appears to have decreased, resulting in more beggars resorting to the help of local officials.
"A typical situation is that the police bring a Romanian citizen to social services. It turns out that they have no money. We take such a person to the Romanian Embassy, which does not help its citizens in any way", says Maj-Stina Samuelsson of social services of the City of Stockholm.
"Then they come and ask us for money: our costs from the beggars are rising."
Helsinki is planning an information campaign in Romania with the message that beggars coming to Helsinki are not entitled to social assistance, and that underage children are subject to being taken into foster care.
"It cannot be right for children to live this kind of a life", Samuelsson said. Child beggars have been seen with their parents in both Stockholm and Helsinki. However, it is not easy to react to the plight of the children through official means.
"We have taken between 10 and 15 children into foster care over the past year. But the processes are lengthy and difficult. We have no solution to the problem", Samuelsson said.
In Finland, representatives of large cities and various government ministries are trying to iron out a common approach. Sweden also seems to have a need for this, as practices vary significantly from one part of the country to another.
There was general agreement that one effective solution would be to improve living conditions in Eastern Europe, where the beggars come from.
The commercial television network MTV3 reported in its news broadcast on Friday evening that the National Coalition Party is proposing tougher measures on the matter. Helsinki MP Ben Zyskowicz called for an amendment to public order legislation that would ban begging in public places.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Finn working with Roma in Romania does not expect flood of beggars in Helsinki (13.2.3008)
Helsinki sends beggar mothers back to Romania on child welfare grounds (11.2.2008)
Majority of residents in Helsinki region want to ban begging (7.1.2008)
Police: Criminalising panhandling no solution to growing number of beggars (4.4.2008)
Helsinki to launch campaign to discourage giving money to beggars (19.3.2008)