Last June, Helsinki Deaconess Institute took part in a study visit in North-East Romania. The visit represented for the participants an eye-opening experience on the conditions of the 1 million Roma minority living in the country. Despite that number, Roma people have been experiencing hard segregation and social exclusion for centuries.

Since 2007, when Romania joined the European Union, a significant step forward has been made in many areas, including education and social and health care services. The EU funded projects resulted in drastic structural changes in the national and regional administration impacting some professions, which are now seen as obsolete. Unfortunately, Roma people in Romania have not had many opportunities to benefit from this development.

Roma in the margins of development

The treatment of Roma in Romania does not match any international guidelines nor conventional protection of human rights and dignity. Roma remain the poorest of the poor. Very often, they are paperless and are not included in any local or national register, so they cannot access any health or education service. Discriminatory treatments by public officials sadly take place on a daily basis.

Those poor living conditions force many Roma people to leave Romania to seek a better future in other EU countries, including Finland. While here they need to meet their needs and saving money to post back home.

Root causes need to be tackled

To support the rights of Roma people in Romania, Helsinki Deaconess Institute has been working along with its local partner E-Romnja on the Kummikylä-hanke project. The project, funded by the Helsinki Parish Union, is aimed at building trust and cooperation between local authorities and Roma communities. Since the very beginning, the project has provided concrete assistance and support to a large number of families both in Romania and Finland. Above all, the voice of Roma people has been heard for the very first time.

Roma people have been present in Helsinki for about 10 years. Helsinki Deaconess Institute, in cooperation with the City of Helsinki and Parish Union, has been providing material aid and integration efforts through the Hirundo day center. The center provides Roma people with hygiene facilities, laundry rooms, as well as counseling and skilling interventions. Dialogue and knowledge sharing between the Roma community and the Finnish authorities have also been an important part of Hirundo. It is imperative that no one is left behind. This is the reason why Hirundo is planning to expand its activities by extending its opening hours, to provide food, new training and meeting opportunities.

It goes without saying that the most part of Roma would prefer to be employed than begging on the streets. Although some Roma sell newspapers or collect empty returnable bottles it is not easy to find a more stable and gratifying job. Our Work & Hope project has made employment for traveling Roma in Finland a bit easier. The project is aimed at matching specific labor supply and demand and helping Roma people in the jobs path.

The ban on begging wouldn’t solve the problem

Roma people are the poorest and most marginalized group within the European Union. Anti-gypsyism and structural discrimination are commonplace throughout Europe. Anti-gypsyism faced by Roma, Sinti and Traveller communities has a long history and sadly a persistent present. It should be asked whether we are ready to face this issue and stop it once and for all. Ignoring the issue or preventing people from begging will not solve the problem.

The question of tackling anti-gypsyism and supporting the human rights of Roma people requires a Europe-wide effort. It is untenable that a group of people in the EU are still being treated in an inhumane and discriminatory manner. Our experience in Valea Seaca shows that making the Roma visible is a priority. Roma people need to have equal treatment, equal rights and equal access to services in the country they are living in.


© Pertti Nisonen