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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Roma campers land in new conflict

Around 200 migrants from southeastern Europe, who claim to be looking for work in Oslo but mostly resort to begging, have landed in yet another conflict after settling in a privately owned gravel pit over the weekend. This time the conflict involves the owners of the gravel pit and residents of an adjacent residential neighbourhood. 

The migrants, most of them Roma people from Romania and Bulgaria, were ordered to leave the grounds around Sofienberg Church in Oslo where they’d settled last week. After months of camping out under bridges and in city parks, and repeatedly violating city sanitation laws in doing so, the migrants banded together and set up camp outside the church in Oslo’s trendy Grünerløkka neighborhood to seek refuge from what they claimed was police harassment.

City politicians called the claims of harassment “unreasonable,” contending that the police were only doing their job in enforcing regulations against camping on public property inside the city limits. Both city and church officials, the latter suspecting they were being used as pawns in the conflict, ordered the church camp disbanded.

Moved on, to new camp conflict
The unwelcome settlers left the church grounds on Saturday after one of the two owners of a large undeveloped lot at Årvoll, north of downtown, offered the use of the property for a new camp. The property, however, already has been the subject of a local neighbourhood dispute: Årvoll Eiendom AS, which owns it, had planned to develop an equestrian center there but instead has used it to extract rocks and gravel despite protests from local residents.

By Sunday groups of migrant Roma folk had set up tents, constructed makeshift shelters and driven their vehicles into the area, outraging not only neighbouring residents but also reportedly setting off a conflict between the two partners in Årvoll Eiendom who own the property. One of them, Albert Hæhre, told newspaper Aftenposten that he had no idea the other, Vanessa Quintavalle, had invited the migrants to move in, and he was objecting almost as loudly as the neighbours. He said the property, with no toilets or running water, was unfit for human habitation and could be dangerous. Quintavalle refused to answer any questions from reporters.

Questioning who’s responsible
The drama looked set to drag on, with most of those involved in the conflict demanding that others “ta ansvar” (take responsibility) for finding a solution. A spokesman for the Roma people told newspaper Morgenbladet that if only they’d be given jobs, “we could rent apartments and the problem would be solved.” Quintavalle’s controversial invitation to the migrants, meanwhile, was viewed mostly as a provocation, both to her neighbours and her partner. The migrants themselves claimed they were victims of prejudice and racism, while a group of sympathizers tried to find them work, access to social welfare benefits and to set up some sanitation facilities at the site. State officials made it clear the migrants would not qualify for Norwegian welfare benefits. Opposition politicians want the government to deport the entire group and criticized the state for not simply doing so.

City government leader Stian Birger Røsland of the Conservative Party, faced with around 2,000 migrants in Oslo this summer, thinks they need to take responsibility for themselves and abide by local laws. He’s frustrated by visitors who camp illegally, use public areas as their outdoor toilets, litter and beg or commit crimes. He and other city government officials have rejected calls for the city to provide the migrants with toilets and shower facilities, saying that’s not the city’s obligation and that doing so will only encourage more migrants to come to Oslo.

“It’s not undignified to pose some demands towards people,” Røsland told Aftenposten over the weekend. “Free movement across borders is a good thing, but those moving need to be able to provide for themselves. There are several authorized campgrounds in Oslo. If you can’t afford them, then you need to stay with friends or family, or go home. This applies to Roma people, just like everyone else.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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