Ombudsman: Helsinki city acted lawfully in Roma shelter refusal

Finland's Deputy Parliamentary Ombudsman says that the city of Helsinki fulfils its responsibilities to care for people in extreme circumstances and need. In particular, the authority was responding to complaints the office had received about an incident on a bitterly cold night in January 2016, when 14 Roma migrants were turned away from a city homeless shelter in Helsinki.

Finland's Deputy Parliamentary Ombudsman received a total of three complaints which asked the authority to determine whether the city of Helsinki had discriminated when a city-run homeless shelter turned away Roma on a bone-chilling night in early January 2016 - reports yle UUTISET.

The temperature outside that night was minus 25 degrees Celsius when 14 Roma – mostly from Bulgaria and Romania – arrived to a service centre in the Töölö district of Helsinki, asking for a place to stay.

After receiving the complaints, the Deputy Ombudsman asked Helsinki officials to investigate whether the city had fulfilled its obligation to offer emergency shelter to anyone in need, whether there was adequate space at the shelter and if it had lawfully followed through on directives regarding providing emergency shelter.

In April 2016, Helsinki officials issued a report which said it found the city had provided shelter equally to everyone in need.

Ombudsman: City still had shortcomings in 2016

Before that, during the winter of 2016 the Deputy Parliamentary Ombudsman said it found shortcomings in the city's emergency shelter system, particularly regarding its organisation and capacity.

But the deputy ombudsman now says the city has made adjustments which helped to fulfil its obligation to take care of undocumented individuals. The authority deemed the city was not passive or inactive in their responses to provide care to the needy.

In its report the deputy ombudsman also recommended that the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health should clarify national laws concerning emergency accommodation - because the issue could become relevant anywhere in Finland.

City's obligations

Helsinki regulations say the city is obliged to provide emergency shelter to a foreigner if the individual is unable to reach his or her own country's embassy during the same day. Generally the accommodation is provided for a single night because the individual is often offered the possibility to leave the country.

The Parliamentary Ombudsman's Referendary Pasi Pölönen told Yle Uutiset that the east European Roma were not denied shelter because the city's Social Services and Health Care department had sorted out accommodation for them that night.

The Deputy Ombudsman said that foreign residents - and even undocumented individuals - are obliged to receive temporary emergency shelter in Finland. The ombudsman's office said the obligations are based on international agreements which Finland has signed, on the Finnish constitution as well as social care laws.

During the past winter, east European migrants were referred to the Helsinki Deaconess Institute's emergency shelter on the city island of Munkkisaari, which opened in November 2016 and closed in April of this year.

Others, like undocumented migrants and Finnish citizens in need, were referred to the institutes' emergency shelter in the city's Hermanni district.

Read other news on the city site of Helsinki.

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