We meet them daily as they sit outside our stores and on street corners. We might say hello and give them some money as we hasten quickly past and continue with our lives. But every panhandling man and woman have their own history, and many of them have children left behind in their homeland.
350,000 children in Romania
It is estimated that there are 350,000 children in Romania who have one or more parents who left the country in search of livelihood. In Sweden there are around 4,000 panhandling EU migrants, many of them from Romania. Without parental support, children are extremely vulnerable. Education and health can suffer and the risk increases that the children are exploited into forced labor or trafficking.
In Sweden nonprofit organization Stockholms Stadsmission operates the project Crossroads, an information and counseling center for EU migrants where parents are identified and encouraged to reunite with their children at home. In Romania, parents are greeted by a social worker from SOS Children’s Villages Sweden who offers long-term support and helps create conditions that allow the families to live together.
“Many of the Romani people we have contact with come here in desperation. They see no other choice than to travel here in hopes of work to support their family. But what we see is that many find it difficult to get jobs because of a variety of barriers, such as language, culture, or that they lack the proper training. Unfortunately, only panhandling remains as a last resort to legal livelihood” – Marika Markovits, Director of Stockholms Stadsmission.
The partnership was a three-year pilot project made possible with the help of Hemköp and Axfoundation. The project aimed to reunite some 30 families through programs that strengthen families — in both Stockholm and Romania.
“We want to be a positive force in society and because we meet this target group on a daily basis we want to try to help them in whatever way we can. That’s why this project -in which we and our customers make it possible not only to help out for the day but instead help find a long-term model based on parents not having to travel away from their children—a way to put our values into action” –Thomas Gäreskog, President of Hemköp.