• Sweden's news in English
 
app_header_v3
The Local investigates
Meet northern Sweden's frozen Roma beggars
Anna, 20, begs in Umeå. Photo: The Local

Meet northern Sweden's frozen Roma beggars

The Local/ms · 14 Jan 2016, 16:03

Published: 04 Jan 2015 00:00 GMT+01:00
Updated: 14 Jan 2016 16:03 GMT+01:00

The ice is slippery on the petrol station forecourt where half a dozen caravans are lined up on a tiny patch of grass next to a forest.
 
Inside one of them, Culai Ciurar, who is 23 and from Romania, is cooking lunch. 
 
"It's good here in Sweden, I like it," he says in broken English as potatoes bubble in his pan - the only ingredient in his midday meal.
 
"The weather is like Romania, so it's not so cold for us," he insists.
 
According to Umeå City Council, around 70 Roma beggars like Ciurar arrived in the region in 2014, which is home to around 118,000 people. As EU migrants from Romania, they can easily travel to Sweden as EU tourists under the right to Freedom of Movement, without the need for a visa or a work permit.
 
Ciurar says he makes between 100 and 200 kronor a day (up to $25) from asking for money on the streets. 
 
"In Romania I don't have a job. It's the same here. I worked a bit in construction but I make more money here begging," he says.
 
"I am looking for work here, though".
 

Culai Ciurar has been begging in Sweden for three months. Photo: The Local
 
Dressed in a long pink skirt and cradling a toddler, another beggar living a few caravans down from Ciurar doesn't want to give her name, but explains that she moved to the country just two weeks ago to save up for a better life for her family. She says she plans to return to Romania once she has earned enough money to help her children through school there.
 
"I don't beg every day because I have two children, so it is maybe one day me and then one day my husband [begging]. I do find it very cold," she admits.
 
"They are very nice people here. They are good. They help".
 
Just as she finishes her sentence, a man appears from the caravan next door and jogs back to a smart car parked across the forecourt. He's a 50-year-old from Argentina who's been living in Sweden for a decade and has passed by to drop off a food donation.
 
"Why am I here? Well I am in a rush but I must say these people need food. They don't have anything. I think they need food, a little bit of help or money. These conditions are not perfect for them".
 

The petrol station carpark where dozens of beggars live. Photo: The Local
 
Thousands of beggars have arrived in Sweden over the past three years, with ninety percent of them travelling from Romania, according to figures released by Stockholm's Social Administration in April 2014.
 
Umeå has a repuation as one of the most tolerant cities in Sweden and many locals say it is no coincidence that growing numbers of beggars are choosing to migrate here rather than heading to Sweden's bigger urban centres. Long a champion of feminism and gay rights, Umeå is a hub for students and a socialist stronghold, with just 5.6 percent of the population voting for the anti-immigration Sweden Democrat party in the last general election in September 2014, compared to 13 percent nationwide.
 
"It's a very special and open place and in general immigrants have been integrated really well here," argues Christian Cederlind, a 24-year-old bartender who is half Columbian.
 
"But of course there are some people who are afraid of change or of a different skin colour...This is the last really civilised outpost in northern Sweden, and now there is rising immigration here and some of the same problems as in Stockholm, it is like a slap in the face for many of the older generation".
 
He says hostilty towards beggars has risen after a video showing two man begging on crutches and later walking unaided in a store went viral earlier this year
 
"But I think you have to remember that we're probably talking about one or two per cent of beggars coming here being criminal, and we should still think about what kind of a life drove them to do that," argues Cederland.
 
All Swedish municipalities are advised to follow national guidelines to provide support to beggars, but it is up to each region to decide exactly what or how much help they should offer. Umeå City Council runs schemes that provide food and emergency shelter to vulnerable EU migrants alongside assistance with healthcare costs. There are also several charities in the city that offer further help to the Roma community and refugees.
 
"We ensure that we comply with applicable laws and regulations and we also give support to the voluntary sector, coordinating the private aid efforts," says City Manager Jonas Jonsson.
 
"This is the level that Umeå Municipality has today and it is valid until our politicians decide on another level of ambition".
 
But there is concern among some sections of the community that Umeå has already gone too far and that resources should instead be put towards helping the beggars to return home.
 
It is a subject that Ritta Lindahl, a former social worker and her son Marcus are very vocal about, when The Local meets them at a book store-cum-coffee-shop on the outskirts of the city.
 
"Romanian organizations and the EU must help them and there should be more of a focus on the long term. You can give them money now but how is that going to help them next week or the week after. They should not be here and I have seen some beggars being harassed physically by those who really strongly think they should get out of here," argues Ritta.
Story continues below…
 
Marcus adds: "We need to save the next generation. Most of the kids aren't even going to school. They come to rich Sweden and there are so many nice people and kind people here in Umeå giving them food and money, but it is not changing the possibilities they have in life".
 

Umeå resident Marcus Lindahl says that begging is only a short term solution. Photo: The Local
 
The Swedish government and the EU have both urged the Romanian government to focus on improving living conditions in Romania, so that fewer people leave the country to beg elsewhere in Europe.
 
Romania's Social Affairs and Labour Minister Rovana Plumb has accepted an invitation to Stockholm in January to discuss the issue. Sweden's Minister for Children and the Elderly and Gender Equality, Social Democrat Åsa Regnér, has said that Sweden is willing to help Romania fight for additional EU funding and suggested that Sweden might also provide technical assistance to help ensure any extra money is spent responsibly in future.
 
Back in Umeå, most of the beggars are just concentrating on getting through the rest of the day. Rain has started beating down and is turning the ice and snow into a dark slush.
 
A twenty-year-old named Anna is huddled next to the revolving door of one of Sweden's most popular high street stores. She smiles as she holds out a battered coffee cup. It's unclear whether her hand is shaking to draw attention to herself, or involuntarily because of the cold.
 
Asked if she has ever experienced hostility from locals, she provides a familiar answer, her smile appearing perhaps a little too forced:
 
"I like it here. The people are nice. They help me".
 

For more news from Sweden, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

The Local/ms (news.sweden@thelocal.com)

Today's headlines
Asylum seeker boy stuck in Denmark after train mix-up
ID checks at Kastrup Airport. Photo: Björn Lindgren/TT

His legal guardian described the error as a "catastrophe" for the boy.

Cash alert! Last chance to deposit your old notes
Head to the bank if you've got any of these. Photo: Micke Larsson/TT

Bank it!

The Local List
Six tips for learning Swedish without even being in Sweden
A Swedish Midsummer party in New York. Photo: Johan Brunkvist/TT

The Local's intern, Jack Schofield, taught himself Swedish from his home in the UK. Here's how he did it.

Ikea threatens to shelve Russia growth plans
Everything Moscow. Photo: Maxim Murmur/AP

Will the Swedish furniture goliath retract its rubles?

Swedish police brace for 'unpredictable' pope
Sweden's Queen Silvia and Princess Madeleine meeting Pope Francis in the Vatican last year. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

Nobody knows quite what to expect when Pope Francis visits secular Sweden this autumn.

Could this Swedish finding help cure alcoholism?
What causes alcohol dependency? Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Scientists hope their findings will end the stigmatization of alcoholism.

Man jailed for six years for asylum home arson
The district court in Västmanland. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

A court in western Sweden has sentenced a 28-year-old asylum seeker to six years in jail for starting a fire at the asylum centre where he lived.

Volvo on hunt for 400 new engineers in Sweden
Want to help build one of these? Photo: Björn Larsson Rosvall/TT

Want to work in Sweden?

Swedish hearts fail on Mondays and at Christmas
Tell me why I don't like Mondays. Photo: Marcus Lindblad/SvD/TT

July is Sweden's most heart-warming month.

Woman told she's not Swedish enough for a job
A sun bather wears a Swedish flag hat to celebrate National Day. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Sweden's discrimination watchdog is on the case.

Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
National
How good is Sweden for expat life?
Sponsored Article
Why you should learn to trade (and just how easy it is)
Gallery
Property of the week: Landskrona, Skåne
Gallery
People-watching: August 26th-28th
Blog updates

23 August

A Summer in Sweden (The Diplomatic Dispatch) »

"For our first year here in Sweden we decided to have all our holidays in Sweden.…" READ »

 

22 July

After the horror, carry on regardless (Globally Local) »

"This time last week, we were just digesting the horror of the Nice killings, in which…" READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
6 reasons expats use TransferWise to send money
Travel
What are Sherpas doing on Sweden's highest mountain?
Sponsored Article
Malmö to host global skateboard championship
Gallery
People-watching: August 24th
The Local Voices
'I want to be a businesswoman but I don’t care about money'
National
Experts: Gothenburg grenade blast is 'part of a cycle of violence'
Sponsored Article
6 simple travel hacks that will make your life easier
Gallery
Property of the week: Karlsborg
Sponsored Article
Five easy ways to travel more often
National
Why Sweden could change its criticised detention laws
National
Watch this dog's reaction when she tries Swedish fermented herring
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
Gallery
People-watching: August 19th-21st
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
National
How to find student housing in Sweden
National
VIDEO: Swede films first Northern Lights of the season
Sponsored Article
The mystique of Asia - in the middle of Stockholm
Gallery
People-watching: August 17th
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Society
Swedish population nears ten million
Sponsored Article
Jordan Pass: your ticket to the experience of a lifetime
The Local Voices
This Syrian artist found love in a Swedish library
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
National
Sex pigs halt traffic after laser attack on Pokémon teens. Only in Sweden.
Sponsored Article
6 simple travel hacks that will make your life easier
Gallery
Property of the week: Hammarby Sjöstad, Stockholm
Society
Drunk knight detained in Stockholm
National
Can you solve this Swede's strange Star Wars mystery?
Gallery
People-watching: August 12th-14th
National
Swedes cheer first snow of the season
Gallery
People-watching: August 10th
The Local Voices
Gabriel mastered Swedish and got accepted onto a medicine degree in just 7 months
3,373
jobs available