Foreign aid hasn’t hindered begging

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Several Norwegian politicians have claimed recently that the best way to halt an influx of beggars to Norway is to keep extending foreign aid to their poverty-stricken homelands, to help them stay home. Many of those now in Oslo, though, are from Romania, a country that’s already receiving billions in foreign aid from Norway. That raises questions about whether the aid is getting to the people for which it’s intended.

An influx of beggars, mostly from Romania, has set off hefty debate in Oslo and several other Norwegian cities this summer. PHOTO: Views and News

As late as March of this year, Norway entered into its largest cooperation pact with Romania to date (external link). The Norwegian government agreed to pump NOK 2.3 billion (around USD 367 million) into Romania, to strengthen its justice system and, not least, improve the situation for the country’s Roma people.

Romania is also among countries that’s received the most financial aid from the three countries outside the EU – Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein – that are members of the European Economic Area and cooperate with the EU. Now some Norwegian officials and researchers are questioning whether the money can really help, because of a political crisis and allegedly rampant corruption in the country that threaten Romania’s economic growth.

The country continues to suffer economic crisis, “and hard times will always be an incentive to leave your homeland,” Line Eldring of the research institution Fafo in Oslo told newspaper Dagsavisen this week. “It can lead to increased migration to Norway.”

Ordered to disband church camp
The number of beggars holding Romanian passports in Oslo has increased markedly during the past year, and has stirred controversy, not least after around 200 of them set up camp outside an Oslo church this week and later demanded NOK 1 million to leave. On Friday they were told by church officials that their camp must by removed by Saturday.

Oslo residents and officials alike are frustrated not so much over the begging itself as over the widespread violation of regulations against camping in local parks and elsewhere within city limits, the littering and use of public areas as open-air toilets. Other residents have complained over groups of migrants rummaging through their garbage cans, or playing accordions in otherwise quiet neighbourhoods and parks, in the hopes of collecting money from passersby.

The billions in foreign aid from Norway to Romania is largely aimed at providing better opportunities for poor Romanians, not least Roma people who have been subject to discrimination for years. The country is mired in political chaos, though, as its prime minister, Victor Ponta, allegedly has stripped power from the country’s president and its court system. Ponta was summoned to Brussels this week by EU commissioners demanding an explanation.

Meanwhile, Romanis has been labelled as “very corrupt” by the watchdog agency Transparency International, with its former prime minister recently convicted on corruption charges. The New York Times reported recently that corruption complaints have been filed against more than 1,000 teachers, doctors, police officers and generals.

‘Close contact
Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre has claimed there is “close contact and cooperation” between Norway and Romania and he expected that to strengthen. Norwegian officials especially want to help Romanians combat organized crime and human trafficking, improve social welfare programs and boost education opportunities for children.

“Norway has a great interest in expanding the cooperation with Romania,” said state secretary Gry Larsen when she signed the aid deal in Bucharest last spring. She has since left the foreign ministry, with others now in charge of monitoring how Norway’s aid is being used.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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