Call for solidarity: Social Center Satama under threat of eviction (Helsinki, Finland)

Posted on April 10, 2011

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From SatamaundefinedThe situation at Social Center Satama is critical. The city of Helsinki is threatening Satama and the Roma camp at the social center’s yard with an eviction. No one knows currently when the eviction will come – if it comes – if the city will not agree on our conditions.

At this point the Roma living in the camp have said that a camp without electricity in the yard of the social center is better than one under a bridge. The Rescue Department has stated, that they will not accept the camp in any way. To make sure that the Roma camp and Social Center Satama stay, and that activities in both are possible to continue, it is crucial to get as many people as possible to defend their existence. It is also possible to create pressure on the city’s officials by other means so that they must make a political decision in favor of the social center and the Roma people. All kinds of solidarity actions are more than welcome at this point.

We need the help of our friends and comrades to ensure that the outcome will be victorious, but also pleasant. We hope to have you with us in erecting barricades, helping in cooking, as well as playing music and hanging out with us. Autonomous spaces are part of the cityscape and will stay so!

We can expect anything from the city and the situation may change dramatically soon, or this state of standoff may continue. To shed some light on how this state of affairs came to be, here is some background:

The city of Helsinki got their best excuse to evict the Roma camp, which has been a thorn in their side for several years, on last November, when there was a fire in the yard of Social Center Satama. After this unfortunate incident, the Rescue Department started harassing the camp. Despite all efforts to improve the safety of the camp (e.g., arranging training about fire safety for the Roma), the Rescue Department has refused to cooperate with the social center. In the end the city pressured the Roma to leave the country giving each 300 euros for travelling expenses and stating that there is no place for them stay here.

About a month ago some Roma came to ask from Social Center Satama if the camp in the yard could be re-opened. The answer was clear, as it has always been – the Roma could camp in the yard and they could get electricity from the social center. The city officials and the Rescue Department responded quickly to the re-opening of the camp by stating that the camp is not suitable for living as opposed to staying under a bridge where you can’t get running water or electricity for heating. Even though we tried to negotiate with the Rescue Department to make improvements in the safety of the camp, they were unanimous that the camp must be closed. It seems obvious that behind this decision is the hostility of certain leading officials of the city against the Roma and the social center. The safety of delivering electricity to the camp has been improved all the time, and the current arrangements have been approved by a professional electrician. Still, the Rescue Department hasn’t accepted it and they state that the problem is in the user. Which basically means that they are saying that Roma are incapable of using electricity.

Thus, after long negotiations with the Rescue Department on Thursday the 24th of March it seemed that an eviction was certain. Barricades to defend the camp were erected immediately around the yard and many supporters of the camp showed up. At this point though, the officials had not yet requested for help from the police. In the end we agreed on a temporary solution with the Rescue Department to house the Roma of the camp in the social center over the weekend. In addition the Rescue Department removed all vehicles from the yard and one trailer, so that no-one could live in it, and made sure that it’s not possible to drive into the yard. The deal was in many ways stupid, and didn’t improve the safety of the camp or the social center in any way, as it also made it impossible for emergency vehicles to drive into the yard.

After the weekend the social center stopped being a “fire safe” space during the nights and the Rescue Department was again in favor of evicting the camp. The barricades were re-erected and made stronger, and the people of the social center began to guard the camp to keep police and other unwanted types away. At the same time the city continued talking about “solving the problem”, without achieving anything. Jarmo Räihä, the so-called Leading Expert from the Social Services Department, who is appointed by the mayor, Jussi Pajunen, into a working-group about Roma affairs, managed to screw up many times during the week. Räihä offered accomodation for the Roma in a housing unit for homeless people, which was already over-burdened. The Roma refused the deal, stating that they didn’t want to take space from other homeless people. After this, we turned on the electricity to the camp, started renovating it and continued waiting and preparing for an eviction.

On Thursday the 31st of March the Youth Department’s Director Lasse Siurola, told that he had requested the police to evict the camp. Later we learned that the request had been illegal, as the landlord cannot evict the tenants with the help of police without first changing the contract. After this failed, the Rescue Department took yet again the role of the harasser. After that we have been staying in the house and behind barricades keeping an eye on police patrols and other “concerned citizens” in the immediate vicinity of the social center.

On the morning of the 5th of April two officials came to discuss about the situation. The officials were surprisingly rational and said that their employer was against the camp, but also that the Rescue Department and police are unwilling to have an eviction, as it would only mean that the social center and the camp would be re-opened somewhere else or even at the same location. They promised not to continue harassing us any longer, but a couple of hours later a truck with a load of large blocks drove to the yard in an attempt to fence off the yard. After a while the trucked deemed it best to drive off.

The latest requirement from the Rescue Department is a 24/7 monitoring of the social center and the yard, and sending the bill to the Youth Department. We all understand that the Youth Department has better ways to spend their money than to pay for the ridiculous surveillance of adults around the clock.

The latest rumor is that the eviction is just around the corner, but as we said, we can expect anything from the city.

For more info:
http://www.satama.org and sosiaalikeskushki (at) gmail.com

 

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