There are 200 people occupying a gravel pit outside Oslo without homes, food, or access to sanitation. Today, I am asking: why?
In NPPF seminar last week, we talked about the situation of the Roma* people in Oslo, a topic monopolizing recent local news. The Roma number roughly 6.6 million in Europe with a population of 300-400 in Norway. Their presence in Norway is not new; both Roma and Romanies are recognized as national minorities in Norway. However, this summer’s particularly large group of 200 primarily romanian migrant Roma is causing a stir in the welfare state unlike it has experienced before.
Two weeks ago, the Roma established a group camp near Sofienberg Church to garner awareness of their mistreatment and poor conditions. The group traveled to Oslo purportedly in search of summer work, but without luck, most have resorted to begging. Their stay is possible courtesy of the generous Schengen agreement, permitting citizens of Schengen member states to travel freely in the Schengen zone without a passport and remain for 3 months without establishing residence.
After a few days in the public park, the Roma were pushed out for violating Oslo sanitation laws. They have since set up camp in a privately owned gravel pit outside Oslo with the permission of one (but not both) of the owners.
The response by Norwegians to the recent Roma group has been mixed.
Four Norwegian men attacked the Roma camp with fireworks and stones. Progress Party leader Siv Jensen said, “put them on a bus and send them out.” Oslo’s mayor used the incident to argue for the reinstitution of the ban on begging, an idea gaining popularity in Oslo.
Other voices are more sympathetic. For instance, NGO Folk er Folk (People are People) has taken to the Roma’s cause, creating awareness of the group’s problems and asking the state and Norwegian people to lend a helping hand.
The underlying question seems to be one of responsibility. Who is responsible to respond to the Roma issue: the welfare state? the home countries of the Roma? the greater international community? Stian Birger Røsland of the Conservative Party says the Roma should take responsibility for themselves.
I think its important to ask who the Roma are and why they left their home countries (do they have home countries)? What are their intentions: immigration, temporary work, or something else? Does the Roma presence indicate a systemic problem–a loophole in the Schengen agreement that makes Norway vulnerable to being taken advantage of?
Norway must address these and other difficult questions in the immediate future as the issue is pressing. The Roma are living in poor conditions, many of their basic human needs unmet.
*The various terminologies for this group are confusing, so even though it may be too general a term, I refer to the group as Roma to be consistent with the news sources I read. For the nitty gritty details on the history of Roma in Oslo and the government’s past response see “Action plan for improvement of the living conditions of Roma in Oslo.”