Begging spreads beyond the cities

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Oslo braced for a wave of beggars expected to arrive from eastern Europe, but fewer have actually been seen in Norway’s capital so far this summer. Instead, beggars are turning up in much smaller towns around the country as their presence and panhandling spreads nationwide.

There aren't as many Roma beggars in Oslo as expected this summer, but more are turning up in smaller towns around the country. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

There aren’t as many Roma beggars in Oslo as expected this summer, but more are turning up in smaller towns around the country. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Police are unable to offer any exact numbers of beggars, most of them ethnic Roma folk from Bulgaria and Romania. Police and city politicians estimated last year’s arrivals at around 2,000 but officials at the Salvation Army (called Frelsesarmeen in Norway), which has attempted to assist the beggars, believes only around 300-400 Roma are in Oslo at present.

“Compared to last year, we would say that there are fewer Roma in Oslo this summer than there were last year,” Frode Woldsund, regional leader of the Salvation Army, told Dagsavisen. “We can’t see an increase in new arrivals this summer either.”

That’s in contrast to the concerns expressed by city government leader Stian Berger Røsland of the Conservative Party, who predicted a “demanding summer” and sought a ban on begging to keep beggars from settling on city streets. Some Members of Parliament had also said they expected an “invasion” of beggars this summer.

Moving out
Instead, it appears many beggars are moving beyond Oslo, with more seen begging outside stores, for example, in the rural towns of Gran in Hadeland and Lena in Toten. Roma beggars also are a common site now in the coastal city of Tønsberg and in other cities smaller than Oslo, Bergen, Stavanger and Trondheim.

“The Roma folk have learned to use the whole country,” Bjønnulv Evenrud, spokesman for the Roma support group Folk er folk (People are people), told Dagsavisen. “Last year it was new that they went to Gjøvik. There’s nothing dramatic about that.”

Now offered a bed in Oslo
While Oslo’s city government has refused to accommodate the beggars, the Red Cross this week started offering 60 new beds for migrant beggars at its own conference center in Oslo. It’s using funding offered by the state in an effort to keep the Roma from camping in urban public areas, and the Red Cross’ overnight shelter is being staffed by volunteers. Another humanitarian group, Kirkens Bymisjon, started offering beds inside the old Tøyen Church for NOK 15 per night last month.

Neither program is viewed favourably by city politicians who fear such assistance will only encourage other beggars to travel to Norway. Geir Hågen Karlsen of the conservative Progress Party in Oslo, warned that the Red Cross offer may be difficult if not impossible to wind down once started.

Meanwhile, legal battles continue over attempts by state agency Statsbygg to remove camps set up by Roma in city forests. The state claims no one is allowed to camp for more than two consecutive days in the popular area around the lake Sognsvann, while Roma claim there are no legal limits on how long they can camp there. A baby was born in the Sognsvann camp last week and later taken to a local hospital, but the baby’s parents said they planned to leave Norway soon and return to Romania.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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