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ROMANIA

Sweden eyes deal with Romania on welfare

Sweden is close to reaching a deal with Romania to help the struggling country solve some of its most pressing social issues. The focus will be on children's rights, the government's special co-ordinator Martin Valfridsson told the Local on Thursday.

Sweden eyes deal with Romania on welfare
Many people from Romania come to Sweden in search of a better life. Photo: Hasse Holmberg/TT

A first draft of a so-called co-operation agreement to deal with issues surrounding some of Romania's most vulnerable groups is currently being prepared by the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, with the hope of the two governments penning a formal deal this summer.

“It is not set in stone yet, but both countries have expressed an interest to initiate co-operation on social issues, particularly on children's rights and education. Romania is very interested in how Sweden organizes its welfare system,” Valfridsson told The Local on Thursday.

Romania's minister for social affairs met with her Swedish counterparts Åsa Regnér and Annika Strandhäll in January to discuss potential co-operation between the two countries.

And Regnér's State Secretary Pernilla Baralt and Valfridsson, who is Sweden's national co-ordinator for the work with vulnerable people in Europe, have just returned from a trip to Bucharest to follow up on the talks.

"It feels like we can talk about both complicated and tough issues. The goal now is to create a more long term and wider framework for our future discussions. The plan is to be able to sign the agreement this summer," Baralt told Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet on Thursday.

The potential agreement would enable Sweden and Romania to exchange knowledge and views on social issues. Sweden would also share information in order to help Romania apply for EU structural funds.

“Romania is a rather poor country, consisting of many smaller municipalities with far fewer resources than in Sweden. There is a lot of improvement potential in social issues, to put it diplomatically, but there is also an ambition to get better at dealing with them,” Valfridsson explained.

Thousands of beggars have arrived in Sweden over the past few years, with ninety percent of them travelling from Romania, according to figures released by Stockholm's Social Administration Board in April 2014.

Most of them are members of the Roma community – one of the EU's largest minority groups – and arrive as EU tourists fleeing poverty under the right to Freedom of Movement. Many end up on the street. In February dozens of Roma beggars were evicted from a city square in Stockholm amid rising concern about the growing number of beggars in the Swedish capital.

And Valfridsson said the new co-operation deal could be a “piece of the puzzle” in helping to solve their plight.

“In the long run this could be one of the effects. If you've got a good life in your own country you are less likely to travel to another. It's one piece of the puzzle," he said.

READ MORE: Meet northern Sweden's frozen Roma beggars

ROMA

Sweden fails to cut number of ‘vulnerable EU migrants’

The number of homeless beggars from Romania and Bulgaria living in Sweden is as high as it was three years ago, according to the new government figures.

Sweden fails to cut number of 'vulnerable EU migrants'
A man begs with a sign asking for work. Photo: Emil Langvad/TT
“There are around 4,500 to 5,000 vulnerable EU citizens currently in Sweden,” Claes Ling-Vannerus, Sweden's national coordinator on the issue, told Swedish state broadcaster SVT.
 
This is the same number estimated in a report  three years ago from Martin Valfridsson, who was appointed by the Swedish government to investigate the issue and what to do about it. 
 
Sweden appointed the national coordinator to work with the governments of Romania and Bulgaria on providing aid to ethnic Roma communities to reduce the attraction of travelling to other European countries to beg. 
 
Municipalities across Sweden and volunteer organisation have offered shelter and food to those in need. 
 
Others have taken a tougher approach, with police this year starting to enforce a begging ban in Vellinge, near Malmö, the first municipality in Sweden to bring in such a ban.
 
 
Ling-Vannerus said that Sweden had recently been seeing growing numbers of poor people from Romania and Bulgaria being put to work “in substandard conditions” as cleaners or builders, or in car garages. 
 
“My conclusion is that it is very attractive to come to Sweden with the life we live here and with free movement of people, it's hard to stop that.” 
 
Sweden appointed the national coordinator to work with the governments of Romania and Bulgaria on providing aid to poor ethnic Roma communities in their countries to reduce the attraction of travelling to other European countries to beg. 
 
Municipalities across Sweden and volunteer organisation have offered shelter and food to the help those who travel to Sweden. 
 
This year police began enforcing a begging ban in Vellinge, near Malmö, the first municipality in Sweden to bring in such a measure. 
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