Influx of Roma in Norway Leads to Begging Ban Bill

An elderly woman begs for money in central Kiev November 29, 2013. Gleb Garanich/Reuters

Norway, the richest country in Europe, has proposed a new law which would outlaw begging in the country and make it a crime to give money to those who are on the streets, supposedly in a bid to reduce the number of organised Roma crime groups in the country.

The Conservative-Progress Party coalition government have previously passed legislation that allowed individual municipalities to choose to ban begging but this newly proposed law would be imposed nationwide. The justice minister Vidar Brein-Karlsenhas said that the laws are focused on 'organised begging', rather than on individual beggars. "We need to give the police the legal authority to crack down on people who arrange for beggars to get here, often in large groups." However, if the law is passed then vulnerable people, who are dependent on the money they make from begging will also lose out by default.

Elisabeth Braw, Newsweek's Europe correspondent explains that for many Norwegians the issue of begging and an increased presence of Roma in the country's cities are connected. "Roma, who used to be very rare in Scandinavian cities but can now often be seen begging, are seen as a problem to be addressed through legislation. In Scandinavian countries there are very few beggars, so the law seems mostly to be addressing Roma begging," she continues.

The numbers of ethnic Roma migrants in Norway has increased tenfold since 2008, drawn to the wealthy country whose economy stayed relatively stable during the economic crisis. Although the country is well known for the universal nature of its welfare provision, migrants are excluded from the system if they don't work and many Roma come into the country on tourist visas which are only valid for three months.

In 2009 Dag Terje Andersen, the minister of labour and social inclusion for the Norwegian Labour Party who were in power at the time, published a report titled: Action Plan for Improvement of the Living Conditions of Roma in Oslo. In the document he emphasised that, because Norway had signed the Council of Europe's Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities 10 years before, the Norwegian authorities were responsible for ensuring Roma were integrated into society and given equal opportunities.

However, despite Andersen's appeal Roma have faced growing intolerance in the last few years, exacerbated by the change of government two years ago - in 2013 Norway's Conservative party formed a coalition with the anti-immigration Progress party. The Progress party leader Siv Jensen had previously pressed for all Romani people to be sent out of Norway altogether, telling a public broadcaster: "Enough is enough. Arrange a bus, send them out." In 2013 Roma people demonstrated in Oslo after the city council banned sleeping outdoors.

Anders Nyland, the editor-in-chief of Bergensavisen the largest city tabloid in Norway explained that Norway actually did have a vagrancy act banning begging until 2006 when it was repealed because it was no longer necessary: "That old act was concerning the traditional beggar, and there weren't really any around then. We have the world's best social system so the vagrancy act wasn't needed."

Nyland's believes that the new law may be unfair, but is still important: "If you totally abolish begging than that of course will have an impact on the actual poor, the actual drug addicts, the actual alcoholics. But we have a new king of beggar now that aren't really poor. And if they are, then why don't they get into our social welfare system?"

"It's not an anti-immigration policy. It's to do with security and preventing organised crime," he says.