They’ve been kicked, hit and even spat upon as they sit on street corners and outside stores hoping for a handout. Homeless Romanians in Norway who make up the vast majority of beggars in the country say they experience the worst treatment in the capital city of Oslo, according to a new study from research foundation Fafo.
The study, based on interviews with more than 1,200 beggars in all three Scandinavian capitals, outlined the most common forms of harassment and abuse they experience in Oslo. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported Wednesday that verbal abuse suffered by more than half of those interviewed in Oslo came in addition to the physical attacks, but beggars claim they’ve also been doused with beer or other liquids while their cups have been kicked over or stolen.
Fafo researchers wrote that only one out of three beggars interviewed in Stockholm and Copenhagen reported the same. Those in Oslo said they’d learned to be especially wary of drunk Norwegians on the streets, as they were among the most likely to harass or attack them.
Not allowed to return redeemable bottles
Fully 27 percent of Romanians who identified themselves as part of the roma ethnic group said they also had been denied access to grocery stores in Oslo, where they often arrive with plastic bags full of empty redeemable bottles that they’ve retrieved from the streets or garbage cans. Each bottle can yield at least one krone through the bottle-return machines found in grocery stores, so collecting and redeeming them can be an important source of income.
In Stockholm only 9 percent of the roma said they were denied access to grocery stores, while 13 percent were denied access in Copenhagen. In Oslo, 38 percent said they were not allowed to use bottle return machines in Oslo, compared to 7 percent in Stockholm and 17 percent in Copenhagen.
Fafo researcher Guri Tyldum described the beggars in Oslo as “free game” and “we were a bit surprised by that,” she told NRK. “Ethnic roma folk are subjected to harassment to a higher degree than in Copenhagen and Stockholm. They’re a group vulnerable to exploitation.”
Not part of organized networks
The Fafo study also reported that the vast majority of beggars interviewed claimed to have arrived in Scandinavia on their own or with groups of family members and acquaintances. “We could find no sign of any organized criminal networks that manipulate street workers to travel to Scandinavia, in order to take parts of their income,” wrote the researchers. All of those interviewed had a good overview of how much money they’d collected and no one mentioned money that went to others. Several Norwegian media outlets reported the Fafo study thus “dashed the myth” that most beggars are attached to organized crime.
Oslo Mayor Fabian Stang told NRK he was disappointed by the results of the Fafo study, calling it “very sad” and “unacceptable” that the beggars are treated so badly in Oslo. “Every single one of us must confront this within ourselves,” Stang said. “We are responsible for our own actions.”
Stang said that he thinks the best way to help beggars is to improve the economy where they live, so that they won’t feel a need to beg in Scandinavia. “But when they are here in the city, we must behave properly towards them,” Stang said. “It’s completely unacceptable for anyone to spit on og kick anyone in this city.”