Norway: A magnet for beggars
Posted by African Press International on June 11, 2012
Elizabeth M. Koikai, reporting – Oslo, Norway
In many third world countries begging is much more common and in certain cases tolerated. Many people may not know this but begging also takes place in some European countries and some continue to practice it, even in the wealthiest nations. Begging is a kind of lifestyle for many in Norway. Most people involved in begging in Norway come from Eastern Europe, especially Romania.
Romania is one of Europe’s poorest countries. There is extensive poverty in many Eastern European countries. These countries do not offer particularly good social security like other wealthy countries in Europe.
A few years ago, Romania became a member of the EU and it’s residents could travel to other parts of Europe. Although Norway is not an EU member, the country chose to participate in the Schengen cooperation. It is an agreement between 15 countries in Europe and contains provisions on police cooperation and border control.
Eastern Europeans who have money travel from their homes hoping for greener pastures in Norway, Sweden, France among other countries. When they arrive in Norway they beg and perform in the streets to earn a living. They tend to travel to Norway, especially in summer when the weather is nice and warm.
Begging is legal in Norway after being decriminalized in 2006. The country’s relative wealth has been attracting groups of beggars into the country. The European crisis has also contributed to the sudden rise of Eastern European beggars trickling into the country.
Police officials claim it’s become an organized trade and suspect the organized groups are also linked to crimes such as pick-pocketing, shoplifting and burglaries that are usually common during summer.They hope that the government will consider banning begging in the country.
The problem is trickling in to other major towns in Norway. Towns like Kristiansand and Tromsø are now facing similar problems with the beggars. Some politicians from a populist progressive party have even called for penalty fees to be issued to people who give money to beggars. They are afraid that the town is going to become a mini-Oslo with floods of beggars.
Last month politicians from the conservative party joined in a call to ban non-norwegian beggars off the streets of major norwegian cities.
The Salvation Army and Churches City Mission claim that non-norwegian beggars are driven from their countries due to inadequate welfare support. They also suggest that the Roma gypsies, who are the common beggars in the Norway are not dangerous people but poor people trying to earn a living.
These organizations try to help the beggars who are usually homeless. They are now urging the government, police and municipalities to take proper measures and uplift beggars from poverty.
Police officials suspect that most of the Roma gypsies are victims of human trafficking and notorious organized criminal groups are behind their activities. They suggest that allowing begging is harboring victims of human trafficking who have no choice but to beg and then the money is cashed in by these criminal gangs.
They also fear that young women who also beg can be lured into prostitution.
The Salvation Army made a plea to the Norwegian government and police officials, asking them not to clear makeshift tents made by the Roma gypsies. Pointing out that rather than criminalizing them they ought to treat them in a humane manner. The Roma gypsies normally live in deplorable and unsanitary conditions, they neither have permanent housing nor do they have proper toilet facilities.
Awhile back some Roma gypsies started getting rash breakouts, this caused the Salvation Army to act immediately. They made showers and toilets available to avoid an epidemic.
Some politicians reacted negatively. They claimed that offering such facilities will only worsen the begging situation and that many Eastern Europeans will be enticed into coming to Norway, if such free facilities are readily made available to them.
The begging issue in Oslo and Norway as a whole is far from being resolved. With both politicians, human rights organizations and police officials at a stand-off, norwegian residents are left to deal with constant panhandling from aggressive beggars, pick-pockets on public transportation and burglaries while away on holidays.
Recently, the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation( NRK) covered a story showing Eastern Europeans who live in cars around a school in Oslo, using the schoolyard as a toilet. Now concerned parents and teachers are demanding a clean from the Oslo municipality. They fear for the health of their children and are shocked by this beastly act. It is definitely a health hazard.
The disturbing pictures of human faeces littered in the schoolyard sparked a heated debate on the NRK and twitter debate forums.
Many Norwegians let out their fury online, majority were angered by the lack of action by their government and institutions that are responsible for this pressing issue. Some twitter commentators were even proposing that their government borrow a leaf from France and deport all Eastern Europeans who have no jobs or means of providing for themselves.
It is now evident that allowing begging has brought other problems into the Norwegian society.