Emergency centre for migrant Roma moving to new Helsinki location

The Hirundo Day Care Centre offers emergency accommodation to Roma people mostly from Bulgaria and Romania, with services like laundry, health, showering and applying for work permits.

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File picture of woman at Hirundo Day Centre, Helsinki / Credit: Deaconess Institute

A centre which provides a vital lifeline for Helsinki’s migrant Roma population is moving to a new location, with more space to offer services to dozens of people who rely on it every day.

The Hirundo Day Care Centre is run by the Deaconess Institute, and has been assisting the capital’s Roma, who come mainly from Eastern Europe, for more than a decade first as an emergency shelter then expanding to offer other services like cooking, showering and the possibility to do laundry as well as accommodation. The staff also help with taks like applying for work permits.

In August, Hirundo will move from its current location in Alppikatu, which will be demolished, into a refurbished former hostel in Vallila neighbourhood which has been empty for a few years.

“It is great to be able to move to new and good premises in August. The Roma who left their homeland because of coronavirus are gradually returning to Helsinki and the need for Hirundo’s services has increased” explains Borislav Borisov, Manager of the Day Care Unit.

“A big part of our job is to help our customers make money instead of begging. The Roma are peaceful and unemployed people. The biggest challenge for employment is the lack of language skills and education” he says.

Expanded services during the coronavirus crisis

While emergency shelters are usually open through the coldest winter months and into spring from November to May, the coronavirus crisis means that shelters have been open also this summer.

Many of the Eastern European Roma left Finland just as the coronavirus pandemic began, leaving around 50 people still here when the borders closed.

In other parts of Europe minority and homeless communities have been hit hard by the virus but the migrant Roma population in Helsinki avoided an outbreak.

“Based on our clinic services, and how intensively we disinfect the whole facility, we haven’t had any positive cases of coronavirus whatsoever. We had a few suspects, but they were all
cleared after tests” Borisov tells News Now Finland.

“We follow strict guidance, we attend washing instructions, we disinfect the facility as
before, we clean it twice a day for example, in the middle of the day we basically spray all
door handles, toilets and sinks” he adds.

With more Roma expected to return to Finland from Bulgaria and Romania, the Hirundo Centre staff are also working with them to secure work permits, and staff say they want to building a better future for the Roma not just in Finland, but also their home countries as well.