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Migrant Roma beggars in centre of Helsinki live in tents under bridge

Helsinki, 6.2.2008 11:32, (Source: Helsingin Sanomat )

The noise is infernal on the roof of this home - a bridge where tens of thousands of cars pass every day.

Floran Rostas and Trandafir Musca show the newest camp set up by Roma from Romania. It is located underneath a bridge in the east of Helsinki. "The paradise of the Rostas family", Floran Rostas says with a smirk on his face.

He says that the dwelling is almost as fancy as the one built in Bucharest by Romania's ruling couple, Nicolae and Elena Ceaucescu, who were executed in 1989.

Three tents have been set up underneath the bridge. The area is surrounded by small trees and bushes typical of such areas.

The tents contain the necessary mattresses and blankets, and not much else. There are no cooking equipment - food is eaten cold.

Where is the toilet of this palace? "Over there", Floran Rostas and Tradafir Musca say, pointing to the surrounding bushes. At the moment, it is snowing in the toilet.

Eleven Roma live in the three tents. One of the group, whose tent has disappeared, has to sleep rough. The others also had to get new tents, after the previous ones disappeared.

"Trash collectors took them",Floran Rostas says. Who the trash men were is not specified. The police also visited the camp. "They didn't do anything to us. They just told us to collect enough money so we could get back to our home country. But we cannot afford to travel", Rostas says.

There is a round hole in the bottom of the bridge, with water coming out of it. When Rostas talks, his breath is visible. Trandafir Musca lights a cigarette.

Cold? "Oh, yes", the man says shaking himself underneath the hooded coat. It is in the coat where he wakes up each morning.

Trandafir Musca shows his own tent. He lives in it with a couple of his relatives. Musca says that his wife Mariana Moldovan and their two-year-old daughter Angelica live in a cabin in a campground.

The pram that is parked under the bridge is that of a visiting family. Child welfare authorities took issue with the lot of Mariana and Angelica Moldovan by showing them a place to sleep indoors.

Musca says that they pay for their place at the campground. Helsinki's social services have not offered housing or other assistance for the Romanian beggars - information that is confirmed by the authorities themselves.

Nor do the Roma want assistance, as repeated use of welfare services is a legal grounds for the deportation of an EU citizen - alongside committing serious crimes.

This group insists that they have not committed crimes. By way of assuring this, Floran Rostas digs out a Bible. "I am not a thief. I am a Jehovah's Witness!"

There is a pile of trash on the ground with the container and cans of processed food.

On the outskirts of the camp, a few sooty charred pieces of wood can be seen - remnants of a fire that is used to warm the hands in the mornings and evenings.

The group get up at seven in the morning to go begging, returning to the camp at eight in the evening. The Roma were forced into tents three weeks ago after being evicted from an apartment in nearby Kontula. The 11 Roma in the camp all lived in an apartment comprising two rooms and a kitchen. According to Rustas, the rent was EUR 5 a day per person.

"We could not afford it." The eviction was bad news for Suras Moldovan, a young woman in late pregnancy. A tent is not a good place to have a baby.

The Roma say that they are ashamed of begging, but that they have no alternatives. They say that they want to go home as soon as they get the money they need to travel.

Two families have already left. "I don't recommend Finland to anyone. It is cold here, you don't get anything on the streets, and nobody gets work", Trandafir Musca says.

The streets are not always safe, either. "We have been kicked and spat on. One passer-by grabbed the coin cup and spat in it.

Kimmo Oksanen
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