• 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
Brexit vote
Sweden opposition cools talk of 'Swexit' poll
Anna Kinberg Batra, of the largest opposition party, the Moderates. Photo: TT

"This is a sad day for the British and for Europe."

Brexit vote
Swedish PM swats aside calls for EU renegotiation
"Sweden will now lose an important partner in the EU," Löfven said. Photo: TT

Left Party calls "totally irresponsible."

Brexit vote
'Devastated' - Brits in Sweden shocked by Brexit vote

Expat Brits in Sweden have reacted with shock, despair and uncertainty to the result of the EU referendum in the UK which was won 52-48 by the Leave campaign.

Brexit vote
'A morning of sorrow': Sweden reacts to Brexit vote
Photo: TT

The former Swedish EU minister, Birgitta Ohlsson declared that it was 'a morning of sorrow', after British voters opted to leave the European Union on Thursday.

The Local Recipes
How to make Karin's delicious Midsummer cake
Karin's cake. Photo: swedishfood.com

"We are very tolerant of other cultures except when it comes to strawberries."

Sweden named the world's 'most reputable' country
The flag of the world's most reputable country – at least according to one report. Photo: Fredrik Sanberg/TT

Sweden has been ranked as the most reputable country in the world by a new report. Find out why.

Why most students don't finish Swedish for Immigrants
More students are taking Swedish for Immigrants classes, but completion rates are low. Photo: Pontus Lundahl

Only four in ten students finished their courses at Sweden's state-funded Swedish for Immigrants classes in 2015, according to new statistics from a national agency.

Swedish police nab drunk-driving lawnmower man
Lawnmowers: dangerous, in the wrong hands. Photo: Hasse Holmberg/TT

A man in southern Sweden is at risk of having his licence revoked after drunkenly driving a motorized lawnmower.

Sweden has EU's second highest food prices
A shopper prepares for the inevitable fleecing. Photo: Fredrik Persson/TT

If your loaf of bread seems ridiculously expensive that’s because it is.

Here's how much alcohol Swedes drink on Midsummer
Systembolaget is a busy place around Midsummer. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Swedes are known for letting loose on Midsummer, but the most recent figures from the country's state-run alcohol monopoly may surprise you.

Sponsored Article
How to find student housing in Malmö: 5 tips
Culture
How do Swedes celebrate Midsummer?
Sponsored Article
'Sweden gives artists the space to follow their dreams'
Culture
Coming soon: Sweden’s smelly fermented fish
National
Assange lawyer: Sweden should recognize UN opinion
Blog updates

17 June

Queen’s Birthday Stockholm 2016: 9th June. 90th Birthday. 900 Guests! (The Diplomatic Dispatch) »

"What do you do when you read that the Queen’s 90th Birthday in London will be…" READ »

 

10 June

i lördags, på lördag – time phrases for present, past and future (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hejsan! Swedish time phrases can be difficult to master. It takes a lot of practice to…" READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
5 reasons you should try dating with The Inner Circle
Private
The Local Voices
Why is this Syrian dentist who hugs like a Swede worried about undies?
Sponsored Article
The man behind Sweden's biggest music festival
Swedish nationalist 'shot and ate' lion and giraffe
Analysis & Opinion
'Sweden's residency revamp is harmful and inhumane'
Photo: The Local
The Local Voices
UNHCR boss: 'It's hard to start your life without your family'
Sponsored Article
US expats: Have you met your tax deadlines?
Politics
VIDEO: Brits in Europe say why UK should stay
Sponsored Article
Education abroad: How to find an international school
Photo: Marko Risović
The Local Voices
World Refugee Day: Searching for safety in Europe - in pictures
National
Is Swedish nationalists’ foreign food ban bananas?
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Gallery
Property of the week: Söråker
Sponsored Article
Malmö: Home to the best food in Sweden?
International
Poll shows huge support for EU in Sweden
The Local Voices
How a Syrian scuba diver mobilized Sweden's biggest asylum centre
Sponsored Article
Avoid hidden fees when sending money overseas
Sport
Zlatan: 'If we'd been fighting for real, he'd be in hospital'
Sponsored Article
VIDEO: Why Malmö is the world's 6th best city for biking
The Local Voices
Orlando reflections: Is it possible to be gay and Muslim?
Sponsored Article
5 reasons you should try dating with The Inner Circle
Sweden to go ahead with migrant age tests
Sponsored Article
US expats: Have you met your tax deadlines?
Gallery
People-watching: June 17th-19th
Sponsored Article
Stockholm school celebrates Nepal Project success
National
Will you be hit by changes to Sweden's residency laws?
Sponsored Article
6 simple travel hacks that will make your life easier
The Local Voices
Why an Iraqi who won Swedish lottery won't quit his restaurant job
Gallery
People-watching: Midweek revellers
National
Why this pizzeria is giving elderly Swedes free meatballs
3,330
jobs available
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
psdmedia.se