STETE organised a seminar at the Parliament`s Kansalaisinfo regarding the issue of Roma people migrating to Helsinki from other countries of the European Union. Among others the discussion included the topics of freedom of movement, human rights and the situation of the Roma elsewhere in Europe.
Speakers included: Jarmo Räihä from Helsinki Social Services Department, Frank Johansson from Amnesty Internationa’s Finnish Section and researcher Miika Tervonen from University of Helsinki.
The following political party representatives voiced their partie’s views on the topic: Aila Paloniemi (Centre Party), Pekka Haavisto (Green League), Antti Valpas (True Finns), Håkan Nordman (Swedish People’s Party), Leena Rauhala (Christian Democrats), Merja Kuusisto (Social Democratic Party) and Sirpa Asko-Seljavaara (National Coalition Party).
The event was part of STETE´s Parliamentary Election series. The first part was held on 09.02.2011.
Election Series: Roma Travellers and Human Rights
The Finnish Parliamentary Elections were held in April 2011. In view of the elections, STETE organized a two-part election seminar series, in which the major Finnish political party representatives voiced their parties’ views on the topical issue. The second part of the “Election Series” took place on 2 March. This time the question was the debated issue of Roma people arriving from elsewhere in the European Union. The issues discussed included the implementation/non-implementation of Roma Human Rights, the Roma’s practice of begging in Helsinki, as well as the concept of free movement within the EU’s borders.
The purpose of the event was to discuss, within the EU framework of free movement, the status of Roma, the background of the controversy-raising begging practice and ways to resolve the related problems. After introductory presentations, comments were heard from the various political parties on the subject. The seminar was opened by Member of Parliament Krista Kiuru (SDP), who was STETE’s Chair until her Ministerial appointment 22 June 2011. Researcher Miika Tervonen from the University of Helsinki gave a historical perspective, whereas Jarmo Räihä, a leading expert from the City of Helsinki’s Social Services Department gave a presentation on the concrete policy regarding the begging issues. Executive Director Frank Johansson from the Amnesty International’s Finnish Section gave a Human Rights perspective.
Miika Tervonen gave background information on the recent history of the so-called “Roma issue” “Could this be apartheid in European terms?” he wondered. France recently gained publicity with its deportation actions, but according to Tervonen, similar measures take place currently all over Europe. He pointed out that particularly in Eastern Europe, the situation of Roma is almost as bad as during the Second World War. Although segregation is not the case yet, if measures such as outlawing begging and discrimination will continue, we are facing a division into first and second-class citizens. Tervonen pointed out that Roma are by no means nomads, but the circumstances drive the communities to seek income from outside their home countries. Tervonen did not see the situation as a security or a minority question, but as a wider civil rights issue. He saw similarities between the current situation and the mass migration of Roma from Finland to Sweden in the 1960s. Yet, the improved position of Finnish Roma could be used as a positive example, and the experiences could be utilized also elsewhere, suggested Tervonen.
Jarmo Räihä said that the City of Helsinki cannot help the impoverished Roma beggars alone. He called for extensive cooperation in both; the EU-level, as well as local level. As an example of well-functioning local cooperation Räihä mentioned the work between the City of Helsinki and the Helsinki Deaconess Institute. He stressed that essentially Roma should be helped in their countries of origin and the solutions must be developed with EU support and supervision. From the City’s point of view, the Roma travelers hailing from other EU member states are to be considered as tourists, just like everyone else, and who have to manage on their own, Räihä maintained.
Frank Johansson pointed out that poverty is not a crime. Poverty and discrimination are major Human Rights problems in today’s Europe, which is why Roma and the question of begging are European-wide issues rather than an individual country, such as Romania or Bulgaria’s concern. Johansson also reminded that there are actually very few travelling Romas in Finland when compared to other European countries. Johansson appealed to politicians and the media on behalf of striving towards a problem-solving -focused approach instead of talking about a begging problem. In addition, Johansson emphasized that it is of utter importance that Roma communities participate in the discussion as well as in the decision-making at all levels from local to the EU-level. However, local EU funding applications are being discouraged by the extensive EU bureaucracy. According to Johansson, when it comes to Roma issues, Finland is actually leading the way behind the scenes, yet in the discussions at home this doesn’t really come up.
After the introductory presentations, brief comments on the theme were heard from the political party representatives. In general, the “Roma question” was prominently seen as a Human Rights issue, and the Roma participation in decision-making in issues affecting them gained support across the party lines. Aila Paloniemi from the Center Party said that banning begging is not a solution and poverty cannot be criminalized. According to Paloniemi, Finland ought to focus in particular on the education and equality of Roma, which could also serve as a model elsewhere. Pekka Haavisto from the Greens emphasized the importance of inclusion of Roma in society and brought up the so-called Roma intelligentsia-model promoted by George Soros, which supports Roma involvement in decision-making.
Antti Valpas from the Finns Party emphasized that the Roma should be helped in the countries of their origin. He also called for an investigation on human trafficking and organized crime regarding the Roma. Like others, Valpas stressed the importance of inclusion of the Roma. Valpas was also concerned about corruption and the Roma-related EU funding ending up in wrong hands. Håkan Nordman from the Swedish Peoples’ Party agreed with the point of view that poverty and begging are not criminal offenses, and described the current situation in Europe as unsustainable. He called for real actions, and acts both in Finland, as well as within the EU. Nordman also stressed the role of the Nordic Council in handling the issue.
Leena Rauhala from the Christian Democrats approached the theme from a Christian values’ perspective and stressed the importance of equality and tolerance. Merja Kuusisto from the Social Democratic Party was in favor of investing in the education and participation of Roma, as well as supporting Roma girls in particular. Sirpa Asko-Seljavaara from the National Coalition Party urged for better-targeted funding. She also promised that the “Roma question” will be raised up during the EU Presidency of Hungary.
During the discussion comments from the audience echoed that the “Roma issue” and their Human Rights should not be left as “nice rhetoric” ahead of the parliamentary elections, or another means of election campaigning. Some participants were concerned that European democracy and the idea equality would be jeopardized if the societies were divided into different levels. The important role of media in raising awareness was also highlighted in order to avoid the bias against the Roma.