The Romanian Ambassador in Norway, Daniel Ionita, replies to an article on the Romanian beggars published in Drammens Tidende
”To: Mr. Håkon Borund, Drammens Tidende, Postboks 7033, 3007 Drammen
Dear Redactor in Chief,
I highly appreciate both your professionalism and your efforts in presenting the situation of needy people in Norway. In particular, I have the honour to refer to an article published by your prestigious newspaper on the 3rd of October 2013, under the signature of CAMILLA SVENDSEN (Rumenske tiggere vil betale for en seng. Mens noen har en varm seng å sove i, må andre ligge på en kald bakke. De utenlandske tiggerne sier de gjerne kunne betalt en slump penger, om de fikk et sted å sove – which can be found here).
There is at least one sensitive issue which forced me to take position on this matter, namely the following strong sentence: „…Hele landet er korrupt, sier hun trist…”. I fully respect the everybody’s opinion, and I am a strong supporter of the freedom of press. At the same time, I am afraid I cannot agree with this kind of remarks or quotes which create unacceptable generalization about a European country, both member of NATO and the EU, which has excellent bilateral relationship with the Kingdom of Norway.
One should be aware that presenting only the sensational or highly exaggerated aspects of a story without balancing them with the views of the other part as well as perpetrating immediate and easy generalisation about a specific country without enough and at least a little thorough documentation might 2/4 be detrimental to the noble purpose of press, that is to inform correctly the
Despite the fact that the prestigious Drammens Tidende did not ask about our opinion on the issue of needy people and beggars in the Kingdom of Norway, allow me nevertheless to dwell a little bit more on this important topic. From the beginning, I assure you that we follow with great interest the debates on the issue of beggars, which largely concern the situation of Roma people. Due to its diplomatic status, the Embassy of Romania cannot, of course, take a direct part in an internal debate in Norway.
However, I would like to clarify a number of specific aspects, as I believe that both the press and the Norwegian public should have the benefit of complete and accurate information.
Firstly, please let me specify that not all the Roma people currently present in Norway hold Romanian citizenship or arrive from my country. Romania’s population is around 20 million. Of these, the Roma people represent only a minority group, consisting of approximately 2,5% of the entire population, around 600.000 people (in accordance with the results of the latest official census of 2011). A necessary distinction must be made between nationality (Romanian) and ethnic background (Roma minority).
In fact, the Roma are the largest minority in Europe (estimated at around 10-12 million), and are, unfortunately, a population group that often faces social exclusion, racism and discrimination across the continent. High levels of mobility among parts of the Roma do bring particular challenges for developing policies of poverty reduction, education, housing and healthcare, both on the national and EU level. However, these difficulties must not make us stop treating a vulnerable, impoverished minority with tolerance and
Secondly, I would like to point out that the Embassy of Romania to the Kingdom of Norway does not and cannot have any official statistics concerning the number of Romanian citizens who come to Oslo, as these citizens are under no legal obligation to register themselves with our Embassies abroad. However, we are aware of potentially sensitive issues related to the presence of impoverished people engaged in begging and we are committed to working with our Norwegian partners in order to find out viable, long lasting solutions.
In this respect, I would like to stress two important points:
On the first hand, migration is a complex phenomenon, which is notn exclusively linked to the country of origin. In other words, poor people are not “driven out” or “exported” by a certain government or another. The dynamics of migration are even more complicated in the case of a traditionally nomadic culture, such as the Roma one.
On the second hand, Romania is fully aware of its responsibility for the economic and social inclusion of its citizens and important steps have already been undertaken in this respect. The substantial results achieved so far have been acknowledged as such at the European level. It is important to keep in mind that this is a challenging, long-term process. We are constantly working to better implement provisions aimed at improving the lives of the citizens who belong to the Roma community.
The social inclusion of the Roma does not represent a new challenge for Romania. Our determination for finding solutions in this matter is proved by the large range of measures adopted by our authorities and the amount of financial resources allocated for improving their economic and social situation.
In this respect, the conclusions of the latest Roma survey conducted recently by the Fundamental Rights Agency of the EU clearly show the progress recorded by Romania in all the domains covered. Of course, there is still room for improvement, but we need to be aware that the successful integration of a vulnerable group requires time. Roma minority is a reality in many countries and this is the very reason that the issue is addressed at the highest European level.
The Romanian Government is currently committed to implement a broad range of social policies towards the Roma minority, focused on measures in the field of education, employment, health, housing and small infrastructure, complemented by numerous measures against discrimination, poverty and promoting equality of chances.
Romania has been one of the promoters of the adoption of the 2011 EU Framework for Roma Integration National Strategies, which represents an important step towards both the acknowledgment of the complex nature of the Roma-related issues at European level and the identification of practical solutions to those problems.
At pan-European level, Roma integration represents the main aim of the Decade for Roma Inclusion (of which Romania is part) and is included on the agenda of the Council of Europe.
In Romania, these policies are integrated in the general strategies and plans of the Government regarding development and social inclusion like the National Anti-Poverty and Social Inclusion Promotion Plan, the Joint Social Inclusion Memorandum, the National Development Plan of Romania 2007 – 2013 and the National Reform Program for 2011 – 2013 as well as in specific strategies and plans for the Roma minority like the Strategy of the Government of Romania for improving the condition of the Roma, adopted in 2001 and the Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005 – 2015, which contains a political commitment of the Government of Romania at international level.
Thirdly, as a matter of principle, we strongly condemn all criminal or illegal acts committed in Norway and elsewhere. The responsibility for a criminal act should be and it is individual, and the offender has to be brought before the Law to answer for their behaviour. Due caution must be exercised in avoiding the unjustified generalization of individual responsibility into collective guilt.
Unfortunately, history holds numerous tragic precedents for this and it is our moral, as well as institutional and legal duty, to avoid this. Moreover, any form of generalization has the potential to create unjust prejudices to the honest Romanians living in Norway.
The majority of the Romanian citizens living in Norway is extremely well integrated into the Norwegian society and contributes to its welfare by working hard and paying taxes. One may find well-appreciated Romanians all over Norway working, for example, as doctors, engineers, teachers, visual artists, ship-building workers, IT specialists, researchers and so many more. I am proud to call them “Romanian ambassadors” in their own right.
Fourthly, the Romanian authorities are fully committed to continue cooperation with their Norwegian counterparts in all fields, encompassing the inclusion of Roma people, as well as the prevention and combat of illegal acts where or in which Romanian citizens might be involved.
We are grateful to our Norwegian partners for their efforts, including the EEA funding and Norway Grants they have dedicated to the issue and for the open and substantial dialogue we have always had. We need to work more, and thus the EEA funding and Norwegian grants represent additional and important incentives for strengthening and further expanding our bilateral cooperation in all relevant areas.
Publishing entirely this letter in Drammens Tidende would be just a modest sign of respect and normality. In conclusion, I remain confident that cooperation and dialogue – especially in a society that rightly prides itself on its traditions of tolerance and inclusiveness – remain key factors to adequately addressing an issue of European level and importance.
With the best regards, Daniel Ioniţă”