A majority in the Norwegian Parliament have voted to restrict but not ban begging, leaving local governments and the police to decide how to deal with a new wave of migrant poor expected to arrive in Oslo this summer. Police in Oslo, meanwhile, have cracked down on an illegal camp in the forest at Sognsvann.
Police insist they’re not stalking or persecuting the migrants, mostly Roma folk, but rather are merely trying to enforce long-held bans on camping for more than two days anywhere outside an established campground.
The Roma camp, near the end of the popular Sognsvann metro line that leads from downtown into the forest of Nordmarka, was the subject of a complaint by Statsbygg, the state agency in charge of managing public buildings and land.
“It’s our job to take care of the public’s right to use the land, all of the land,” Hege Njaa Rygh of Statsbygg told newspaper Dagsavisen. “That means everyone must follow the rules, which clearly state that you can camp for up to 48 hours in the same place but you can’t live there.” That rule applies to everyone, Norwegians and Roma alike, she stressed.
Rygh said that when people extend their stay beyond the allotted time, “we ask them to move. In this case, they didn’t move.” Police were called in to clear the camp, sparking protests from a professor at a local college, who alleged the Roma were being driven out on the grounds of their ethnicity and thus were being discriminated against. Both police and Statsbygg officials denied that was the case.
An official ban on any camping within populated areas is also being enforced in Oslo, and the parliament’s action Monday night also gives room for local officials around Norway to specify where begging can be conducted. Oslo officials wanted the ability to ban begging entirely, but didn’t get it, leading opposition parties including the Conservatives and the Progress Party to state that they will impose a begging ban if they win the national election in September.
The left-center government coalition parties (Labour, the Socialist Left and the Center Party) were joined by the Christian Democrats in also calling for more use of the money Norway sends to the European Union (EU) as part its membership in the European Economic Area (EØS, in Norwegian) to fund social programs aimed at Roma folk in their home countries. Newspaper Aftenposten has reported that only NOK 1.1 million of the NOK 730 million Norway sent to Romania from 2007 to 2011 can be tracked directly to Roma projects.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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