Saturday, April 10, 2010

Roma Asylum Seekers in Finland and the dwindling Right to Social Security

According to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, there are an estimated 10,000 Romani people in Finland. They are a minority recognized in Section 17 of the Constitution and have lived in Finland for over 500 years. Recently, there have been an influx of Roma asylum seekers from other parts of Europe, predominantly from Bulgaria and Moldova. With the recent surge in anti-immigration sentiments in Finland, Roma asylum seekers are up against double discrimination - on grounds of ethnic origin and immigration status. Consequently, many end up living in deplorable conditions in the country where they seek protection. Like every group of people and individuals living in Finland, the Roma reserve the right to social security, provided in the Constitution of Finland and international and regional human rights treaties duly ratiied by Finland.

Section 19 of the Constitution of Finland provides the right to social security. The Constitution mandates that those who cannot afford a life of dignity have the right to receive subsistence and care from the state. It also stipulates that public authorities shall support families responsible for providing for children and promote the right to housing. Hence, it goes with saying that the government of Finland has a Constitutional obligation to ensure that Roma asylum seekers within its borders enjoy the right to social security with discrimination of any kind.

Recently, lawmakers in Finland have expressed concern about the influx of Roma refugees from Bulgaria. In 2009, over 700 Roma from Bulgaria traveled to Finland to seek asylum and there have been rising concerns about inadequate housing infrastructure to accommodate the rising number of Roma asylum seekers. While efforts have been made to provide the necessary support, many Roma asylum seekers are yet to enjoy equal protection.

In Finland's capital and largest city - Helsinki, the plight of Roma asylum seekers cannot go unnoticed. Many live in deplorable conditions in Kalasatama. All year round, Roma families with children live in caravans and tents. Winter in Finland is harsh and the winter of 2010 was particularly unforgiving, but the Roma asylum seekers had to endure the subzero temperatures, in tents and caravans. Like every individual living in Finland, the Roma have the right to adequate housing and social security, but unlike the majority of the population, this vulnerable minority group cannot assert this right.

Above all, public authorities in Finland have the obligation to support families providing for children. Despite this obligation, it is not uncommon to see Roma asylum seekers on the streets and in the subway soliciting alms to support themselves and their families.

From the above analysis, it is evident that - for Roma asylum seekers in Finland - the right to social security is a dwindling right and is not guaranteed. By depriving Roma asylum seekers of the right to social security, public authorities in Finland are in breach of Section 19 of the Constitution, as well as Section 6 that forbids differential treatment on the ground of sex, age, origin, language, religion, conviction, opinion, health, disability or other reason.

In conclusion, the position of the Roma in Finland is secured in Finnish legislation, following the 1995 constitutional reform. However, many Roma asylum seekers in the Nordic country are right to enjoy the basic constitutional right to social security.

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