Roma beggars take action in Oslo
Posted by African Press International on July 24, 2012
By Elizabeth M.Koikai
Norway has been in a rather difficult position in the last few weeks. Hundreds of Roma people who beg in the streets of Oslo set up makeshift tents outside Sofienberg church, claiming that they are continuously harassed and arrested by the Police in Oslo.
An organisation know as “People are people” is said to be behind the action taken by the beggars.
The church officials found it hard to turn them away, they let the beggars put up their tents temporarily. However, several residents reacted strongly to the establishment of the camp at the church’s doorsteps.
During the course of that week, church officials arranged a meeting with some of the beggars and concluded that the church no longer wanted the camp outside the church area. The church officials argued that the area was used by many and it is a public area, adding that it was illegal and not proper for people to reside in a parking area.
– The camp has to be cleared as soon as possible. The Church can not be responsible for the safety and health conditions of those living here, Robert Wright the Churchwarden told the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet.
Acting Bishop Olav Dag Hauge emphasized that the church was not going to force the Roma people out of the area, but that the police had the authority to intervene.
The decision to close the camp was not welcomed with open arms, some of the beggars who took part in the meeting claimed that the church had taken a political decision in closing the camp.
– We do not know what to do. We think this is inhuman. People respect animals more than they respect us, said one of the beggars when asked to comment on the decision.
The spokesperson of the church stated that the action was never meant to be prolonged, and that the church had always emphasized that it was temporary.
Camps moved to Årvoll
The camp at Sofienberg church was moved last Saturday to a private property here in Oslo. The part owner of the land, Vanessa Quintavalle told the media that she had decided to help the Romani people who had nowhere to go.
– They are people too. If they come here, they can tell people that they are here legally, she said.
The land that Vanessa Quintavalle owns is a 26.5-acre building site that is in Årvoll minutes away from Oslo city centre. She says that she thought about offering her land to the homeless beggars and that the site is just there not being utilised.
Upon hearing the news the Romani people were relieved and looked forward to moving from Sofienberg church. Little did they know that it was a bare building site.
On Friday evening Bjønnulv Evenrud chairperson of the organization #People are people”, told the media that he was pleased and that the camp was ready for occupation by Saturday morning.
– We have a private sponsor with a plot of 26 acres. There is plumbing and electricity, and we are very satisfied.
Problems continue at Årvoll
Some had hoped that the situation would calm down when the Romani people in Oslo received permission from Vanessa Quintavalle to set camp in Årvoll. The story took a weird twist when millionaire Albert Kr. Hæhre who is the landowner of the site came back from vacation. Mr. Hæhre stated that he had no knowledge of Vanessa Quintavalle’s actions and did not support her.
To view a larger size, click on the picture:
Mr. Hæhre added that he wants the Roma people removed from his land. Last week, child care services and the county doctor in Oslo warned that the camp was a health hazard and should be closed immediately.
The move to Årvoll has not elapsed without any problems.
Several Årvoll residents also complained about the beggars, claiming that the they were playing loud music late into the night. Others claimed that the beggars were loitering around their neighbourhood and even defecating in their gardens, causing uneasiness.
Four men were arrested after shooting fireworks into the camp site, directing their anger towards the Roma beggars on Sunday night. One of them has been charged with violence against a police officer after trying to push the officer with his vehicle.
However, the police argued that the Roma beggars had generally behaved well, according to Aftenposten, a Norwegian newspaper.
Årvoll Residents Outraged
Since the move to Årvoll, Norwegians residing in the area have been angered by the decision made to move the Roma people near their neighbourhood.
They claimed that the decision was not democratic because they were not asked if they wanted a camp near their properties and children.
– They should have considered us and our children before moving strangers into our neighbourhood, this is the last time I am going to walk my dog around this area, stated a woman living in the quiet neighbourhood.
They persistently asked those responsible to close down the camp. Residents living in the area have even taken matters into their own hands. There has been reports of neighbourhood watch groups.
A local newspaper has also reported that many in the neighbourhood have interrupted their vacation to come home and look after their houses.
Last Thursday, residents living in the Årvoll area threatened to sue the Mr. Hæhre who is the landowner, if the Roma people were not moved within three days.
Årvoll is a residential area north of Oslo, with around 4,700 inhabitants.
Norwegian Police officials claim that begging is an organized trade and suspect that some groups of beggars are also linked to crimes such as pick-pocketing, shoplifting and burglaries that are usually common during summer.
Such reports have made Norwegians weary of Roma people as a whole and are suspicious of their activities in Norway.
Outcasts of Europa
Siv Jensen who is the leader of the Progress right-wing party in Norway suggests that the Roma beggars should be expelled from Norway. The Conservative Party in Oslo have also supported deportation. However, both the legal expertise and the European leader Torbjorn Jagland have warned against this.
– This is completely contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights, said the former prime minister.
The problems the Roma people face today are not new. They have been subjected to various forms of discrimination throughout history and in nearly all the countries in which they have settled. These groups of people have held on to their culture despite abject poverty, but this has come with a price. They face isolation and stigmatization from the surrounding populations in Europa. They are usually stereotyped as thieves, tramps and con men.
Amnesty International in Norway has been vigilant as the events unfold in Norway.
The recent action by the Roma people to set up makeshift tents outside the Sofienberg church and Årvoll site, has sparked heated debates on social networking sites and online newspapers comment fields. Many Norwegians let out their fury online, majority were angered by the lack of action by their government and institutions that are responsible for this ongoing problem. Some Norwegians urged the Roma people to take their own lives, and someone even compared them with brown snails.
Olav Rune Ekeland Bastrup who is an expert on the Roma people claims that the debates online are hateful and characterized by misunderstandings. He continues by saying that deportations of the Romani people as suggested by some politicians is not a solution.
The Anti-racist centre in Oslo has also warned the public of posting hateful comments on debate forums claiming that the Roma people’s history is more brutal than most people realize.
Årvoll Camp to be closed
Last week, land owners Albert Kr. Hæhre and Vanessa Quintavalle came to an agreement that the camp at their building site be removed by Tuesday. The municipality confirmed this to the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) that they received a letter from the two land owners. Residents of the area were elated and the Roma people started moving out, upon hearing the news.
By today afternoon, there was only one car the at the camp. The order by the landowner Albert Kr. Hæhre to vacate his land met no resistance.
The Roma people who come to look for greener pastures in Norway are usually living in open parks, car parking areas and even under bridges. This has caused them to be targeted by police who patrol at night trying to safeguard public properties.
But according to Bjønnulv Evenrud, chairperson of organization “People are people”, a person believed to have masterminded the action taken by the Roma beggars, now wants the municipality to offer a new camp for the beggars. His sentiments were immediately dismissed by the city council.
- Norway: Beggars roam the streets of Oslo – API’s Elizabeth interviews Kari Gran
- Norway: A magnet for beggars