Securitizing Poverty in Urban Space: Bulgarian and Romanian Street Workers’ Experiences of Intensive Urban Public and Private Policing in Helsinki

Monday, 16 July 2018: 16:26
Oral Presentation
Markus HIMANEN, University of Helsinki, Finland
Many economically disadvantaged migrants from Romania and Bulgaria, of whom many belong to the Roma minority, work in the streets of European cities. The main reason for this form of migration is racial discrimination in the labour market and restricted access to basic services in South-East Europe. Instead of rights-based solutions, EU countries have reacted to these migrations with securitized policies that have resulted in intensive policing practices, recurrent police stops and searches, and forced evictions.

The presentation is based on an analysis of semi-structured group interviews with precarious street workers from Romania and Bulgaria living rough in Helsinki (N=25), interviews with NGO employees (N=8), and public authorities and private security actors (N=4). The research is made as a part of the project “Stopped – Spaces, Meanings and Practices of Ethnic Profiling” (2015–2018) that examines the prevalence, the forms and practices of ethnic profiling by the police in Finland.

The paper discusses the experiences of the street workers: frequent police stops and apprehensions, evictions from makeshift sleeping places, and harassment by the security guards in the train stations and shopping centres. The central questions are on the one hand, how the control of urban space by public authorities, private security and other commercial actors creates racialized and stratified impacts; and on the other hand, how visible, precarious forms of existence are increasingly perceived as problems for public safety in wealthy European cities. The paper argues that the intersection of street workers’ precarious legal status, class position and ethnicity makes the targeting by the police and security guards possible.