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Sweden and Romania to discuss begging surge

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Sweden and Romania to discuss begging surge
A Roma beggar in Umeå last week. Photo: The Local
15:15 CET+01:00
Romania's Social Affairs and Labour Minister Rovana Plumb has accepted an invitation to Stockholm in January to discuss the rising number of Roma people begging in Sweden's major towns and cities.
Thousands of beggars have arrived in Sweden over the past two years, with ninety percent of them travelling from Romania, according to figures released by Stockholm's Social Administration in April.
 
Most of them are members of the Roma community - one of the EU's largest minority groups - and arrive as EU tourists under the right to Freedom of Movement. Many live in tents or caravans and make a living by asking Swedes for money outside shops and underground stations.
 
Romania has been criticized in recent months for failing to do enough to help Roma people living in poverty. The Swedish government and the EU has said the Romanian government should focus on improving living conditions in Romania, so that fewer people leave the country to beg elsewhere in Europe.
 
Negotiations between Sweden and Romania broke down last spring under Sweden's previous centre-right government, but resumed in November when Sweden's Minister for Children and the Elderly and Gender Equality, Social Democrat Åsa Regnér, met with Romania's Ambassador to Sweden, Răduţa Matache.
 
On Wednesday, Regnér announced that she would be holding talks with her Romanian counterpart Rovana Plumb in Stockholm in January.
 
"I will meet my ministerial colleague to talk about security for this vulnerable group and its right to education, employment and housing," she said, adding that the Swedish government had received signals that the Romanian government had "raised its ambitions" for the Roma community.
 
"We know that they are clearly aware of the situation," she told Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet.
 
"The question is how Sweden and the EU can support the [Roma] further so that those people shall pursue a livelihood in their homeland," she said.
 
Regnér said that Sweden was willing to help Romania fight for additional EU funding and suggested that Sweden might also provide technical assistance to help Romania work out how best to spend and invest EU funding responsibly.
 
She also announced that a national coordinator on Roma policy would be appointed before the New Year, to help improve communication between different Swedish municipalities, which currently have different guidelines on how much help and support they give to Roma beggars and other immigrants.
 
"The municipalities are asking for better exchanges between them government agencies on how to interpret legislation. They also want guidelines or a handbook," she told Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet.
 
"We want to provide support in various ways," she said.
 
Sweden is one of the most popular destinations in Europe for Roma beggars.
 
"I like it here. People are very kind. I am poor, but I get more money than at home," one 20-year-old beggar in Umeå, northern Sweden told The Local last week.
 
Giving her name only as Anna, she said in English: "It is not too cold on the streets. It is like Romania".
 
In an interview with Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter earlier this year, Sweden's former minister for EU Affairs and Democracy, Birgitta Ohlsson, said she felt Sweden's reputation for tolerance was encouraging beggars to travel to Sweden, rather than to other EU nations.
 
"We have a more empathetic view of these people. I think that other countries, especially Romania, are surprised to see how we deal with the situation. Many Swedes have a tremendous empathy and sympathy for these beggars and really want to help. I believe that Romania has understood this now."
 
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