Saturday, May 14, 2011





Day centre opens in Sörnäinen

Georgi Georgiev (Centre, below), the father of three children, is surfing the internet, hoping to find a van that they can use as a place to sleep. Behind him Goran Zherkov (left) and Lezko Georgiev evaluate the car that they have found.

The coffee machine is making its second batch of the day, and the washing machine is finishing a new load.

The Roma day centre in Pääskylänrinne in Sörnäinen opened its doors this week, and word has spread rapidly. New Roma have been arriving in Finland recently, this time mainly from Bulgaria.

“Last Thursday 80 people came here for a shower, says Marjatta Vesalainen, one of the centre’s two full-time employees.

The former service centre for the homeless is open every weekday for four hours. During that time, the East Europeans can wash their laundry, take showers, and deal with business on the internet.

Others just drink coffee and wait for their mobile phones to charge on the floor.

The smell of after shave from Lidl is in the air. Someone cuts his hair in the toilet, and the drain gets clogged.

The centre, which goes by the name Hirundo (Latin for “swallow”) is run by the Deaconess Institute together with the City of Helsinki. Vesalainen says that a few disgruntled city residents have shown up at the centre to complain.

Previously Roma from Eastern Europe have washed at the Kaalo day centre for Finnish Roma.

This spring there has been a surge of Roma from Bulgaria.

“They are not the poorest of the Roma”, says Ralitsa Dimitrova, a Bulgarian substitute worker of the Deaconess Institute.

She was hired to the day centre when it was noticed that it was not enough to have an employee who speaks Romanian.

Dimitrova says that the poorest Roma cannot afford to travel to other parts of Europe.

Men gathered around a computer ask the photographer present to help them find a car sale website. One bright blue van is on sale in Laukaa, which is too far away.

Cars are needed both for travel through the Baltic countries, and for sleeping. Most of the Bulgarian Roma sleep in parking areas in the centre of Helsinki.

City ordinances forbid camping without permission. Groups of Roma drying their laundry have been driven away from Kaisaniemi Park, the Kyläsaari recycling centre, and the Pitäjänmäki district.

The camp where Georgi Georgiev and his group have lived has also been dismantled. Most recently he slept in a car near the Satama social centre, which has Romanian Roma living in its yard.

“We are discriminated against. The police only chase away the Bulgarians, but not the Romanians”, Georgiev says.

The Roma from the two countries tend to shun each other. They compete for the same deposit bottles and coins.

The Bulgarians shake their heads angrily when they are asked about begging and the Romanians.

“Pullo, pullo” (“bottle, bottle”) they say in Finnish. Deposit bottles are their source of income.

Jarmo Räihä, a leading official at the Helsinki Social Services department, believes that there are fewer Romanians among the Roma than before. He believes that word has spread that begging here is not very profitable.

Maria Calin and her husband have tried to earn money by playing the accordion on Helsinki streets and in Metro tunnels. They have not been very successful, and now they are asking for assistance from the City of Helsinki to get back home.

But first they need to find the Social Services building in Kallio. Earlier in the week someone gave the couple directions to the nearby headquarters of the Social Democratic Party.

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