Roma treatment needs improving

The Council of Europe reports that treatment of Roma community in Oslo is concerning

Photo: Congress of  local and regional authorities / Flickr Nils Muižnieks (far right) attends a Council of Europe meeting in September 2014.

Photo: Congress of local and regional authorities / Flickr
Nils Muižnieks (far right) attends a Council of Europe meeting in September 2014.

Michael Sandelson & Sarah Bostock
The Foreigner

Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks makes his statements following his visit to Norway this January. He held discussions with state authorities, Human Rights structures, and non-governmental organizations.

Review needed
The past few years have seen several cases involving Norway’s Child Welfare Service and minors. Several families have left Norway to avoid dealing with the CWS.

Last week, Aftenposten reported that people in Lithuania, Poland, Russia, and the Czech Republic advise families against taking their children to Norway. There are claims that CWS separates them and puts them in “completely Norwegian” foster homes.

One case involves two Czech children placed in two different foster homes due to allegations of parental abuse. Bohuslav Sobotka, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, has asked his Norwegian counterpart Erna Solberg for assistance regarding this case.

Amongst Muiž­nieks’ concerns regarding the Roma community are extremely frequent uses of child protection measures to separate children from their families. In a press release, he states that, “the Norwegian authorities must review Roma children’s alternative care decisions for their human rights compliance and provide support to Roma parents in exercising their parental role.”

“The best interests of the child should be a primary consideration. Preventing family separation and preserving family unity are important components of the child protection system,” he adds.

Commissioner Muižnieks also expresses concerns about Roma children’s low school attendance, recommending the development of programs for mediators and teaching assistants to improve this, with authorities doing more to include Roma communities.

Begging issues
Persecution in many countries means that Roma are forced to move from one place to another. The Norwegian government recently proposed, but subsequently withdrew, a nationwide ban on begging.

Commissioner Muižnieks welcomes this in his report, but remains concerned about vetoes on begging and the level of “sleeping rough.”

Southern Norway’s Arendal municipality introduced a ban on begging last year, which seemingly targeted Roma. At the time, Equality and Anti-discrimination Ombudsman Sunniva Ørstavik declared “the debate has been marked by spiteful rhetoric based on many stereotypes of who these people are.”

“A blanket ban on non-aggressive begging has a discriminatory impact on Roma immigrants and interferes with freedom of expression. Such bans should be repealed. The authorities should also ensure the sufficient availability of emergency accommodation to those in need, including immigrants,” remarks Commissioner Muižnieks.

He also points out that the arrival of Roma immigrants to Norway has been accompanied by worrying manifestations of anti-Gypsyism and hate speech, and that more should be done to prevent discrimination and this form of rhetoric.

The Council of Europe has also criticized Norway for failing to combat internet-based racism or help migrants sufficiently. Progress’s (FrP) Minister of Children, Equality, and Social Inclusion Solveig Horne has proposed legislation aimed at preventing differential treatment and discrimination.

Unclear
The Norwegian government says that the Commissioner’s report will be given careful consideration. At the same time, officials comment that the report lists over 60 Roma children in foster care, with a further 60 perhaps being vulnerable to CWS intervention.

“The Ministry of Children, Equality, and Social Inclusion has no access to statistics as to children’s ethnic origin and is therefore not in a position to comment upon the numbers in the report,” they state, adding that Norway’s Child Welfare Act applies to all children.

Citing that the legislation primarily considers the child’s best interests, its “underlying assumption… is that children should grow up with their parents.” Moreover, great importance is placed “on a child’s right to care and protection from all forms of physical or mental violence injury, abuse, or neglect.”

According to officials, the measures that the CWS offers are voluntary ones designed to help allow them to live with their families when possible. Both children and parents are given the right to be heard and influence where the child is to be placed if he/she cannot live with his/her parents.

Crime increase
They also say that the number of foreign citizens begging in public places, “many of whom were from Romania,” increased from 2007 onwards.

“In the same period, we had an increase in criminal activities in public places, especially pick-pocketing and various forms of petty theft. Several such crimes were committed by Romanian citizens.”

Authorities “have no opinion on how many crimes were committed by people belonging to the Roma population,” as they “do not categorize people after any ethnic lines,” they remark, though.

“However, police reports from Oslo indicated that there were connections between people and groups involved in begging and those involved in criminal activities.”

Police and other authorities received an increasing number of complaints from the public about groups of foreign citizens pitching camp, it is stated. Many of these concerned litter and unsanitary conditions.

Dampened
Police have intervened and also created a special police group in Oslo to investigate pick-pocketing in public places.

“The police in Oslo also carried out a number of other preventative measures, such as changing the rules for parking in certain areas, to avoid large groups of beggars congregating to spend the evenings and nights in their car,” say officials.

Regarding anti-Gypsyism, they state that “there has been a notable easing of tensions” since a peak in 2012/2013. “This coincides with a shift in the more low-key way that many beggars now conduct their business,” they conclude.

The Norwegian Parliament adopted the reformed Act on the National Institution for Human Rights on April 28 this year. It enters into force on July 1, 2015.

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks’ full report on Norway, which also includes sections on rights of people with disabilities and care of people with psycho-social and intellectual disabilities, can be read at wcd.coe.int/ViewDoc.jsp?Ref=CommDH%282015%299&Language=lanEnglish.

This article was originally published on The Foreigner. To subscribe to The Foreigner, visit theforeigner.no.

It also appeared in the May 29, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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