Organized begging unleashes anger

UPDATED: Officials from both ends of the political spectrum said they were angered and sad after state broadcaster NRK revealed Tuesday night how many Romanian beggars in Norway appear to be part of criminal organizations that also engage in prostitution, theft and drug dealing. The Romanian men in charge even flaunt ill-gotten gains on social media, including lots of cash, but begging still appears unlikely to be outlawed.

An influx of beggars, many from Romania, set off hefty debate in Oslo and several other Norwegian cities when it first began around five years ago. Beggars are now a common sight on the streets of Norwegian cities and they even compete with Norwegian drug addicts, for example, who previously were the most prominent among beggars. NRK’s documentary showed how many of the beggars in Bergen are part of organized criminal networks. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

“I’m sad because we see how people are being exploited,” Erlend Horn, a politician from the Liberal Party who’s in charge of social welfare services in Bergen, told NRK. “I’m provoked to see how other people exploit the system in a way that makes those really in need suspected of being part of an illegal network.”

Horn, who nonetheless doesn’t want to ban begging, was reacting to the latest episode of NRK’s investigative program Brennpunkt, which documented how Romanian women who beg on the streets of Bergen during the day change into fashionable clothing in the evening and start selling themselves at night, often to drunken Norwegian men who also find themselves robbed. The money collected is allegedly handed over to the Romanian men who were filmed on the streets as well, and who run houses where as many as 20 Romanian men and women live together in Bergen. Brennpunkt also reported how the alleged Romanian organizers flashed large amounts of cash on social media sites, bragged about drug deals carried out by those working as beggars for them, and jokingly complained while riding on a bus that there weren’t enough passengers on board for them to steal wallets.

NRK reported on Wednesday that the documentary sparked some violent reaction in Bergen. Some beggars showed up a local charitable organization asking for help to travel home to Romania, because they’d been yelled at, kicked and even spat upon. Police said they were sending out extra patrols to restrain angry Norwegians and protect those begging and rummaging through garbarge containers.

Organized crime long suspected
Police officials and social workers in Bergen confirmed on NRK’s documentary, meanwhile, that they long have suspected that Romanian and Bulgarian beggars and prostitutes on the streets are part of organized networks, and some arrests have been made. It can be very difficult, however, to obtain enough hard evidence to produce in court. In the case of one Bergen man robbed at a minibank, surveillance video showed him surrounded by as many as four Romanian women, making it all but impossible to identify exactly which one took his money or snatched his bank card after learning his PIN code.

NRK’s Brennpunkt documentary estimated that as many as 140 people are involved in the criminal network operating in Bergen. All have close ties to one another and come from the city Targu Jiu in the region of Gorj and from the neighbouring county Dolj in Romania. Norway’s trade agreement with the EU means that they’re all allowed entry and residence in Norway, although they can be deported if convicted of crimes.

When police in Stavanger managed to crack down on Romanian networks, which had all but forced other local beggars and prostitutes off the streets, they simply moved on to Bergen, Tromsø, other Norwegian cities and also to Finland, according to Brennpunkt’s research. NRK’s program leaders and journalists spent the past two years charting the movements of the Romanians in Bergen, and their connections to others. Brennpunkt also pin-pointed the leaders of the network in Bergen, calling one “The Kaiser,” another “The King” and yet another “Crown Prince,” and made repeated but unsuccessful attempts to interview them. It remained unclear if NRK’s research will now be used by local police to mount a crackdown of their own.

Organized crime leaders are also believed to be behind Romanian beggars and prostitutes in Oslo, but Brennpunkt stressed that not all beggars on Norwegian streets are involved. Some have actually made their way to Norway on their own, to collect money for families back home in Eastern Europe, and several interviewed fear the organized networks. Few would speak on camera, for fear of being recognized and harassed.

‘Must remain sober’
Neither the top local politician Horn in Bergen nor Member of Parliament Kjell Ingolf Ropstad from the Christian Democrats are willing, however, to propose a new ban on begging in Norway. “We must remain sober,” Horn told NRK, cautioning against stygmatizing all beggars.

“Those who engage in criminal acts and are involved in organized crime must be caught. That’s the job of the police and we, as political authorities, must do what we can to help,” Horn added. “At the same time, we must continue to show compassion for those who have a real need for help, and make sure they are still met with dignity.” Ropstad also told NRK he still didn’t regret his vote against a begging ban in Norway.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg of the Conservative Party, however, and two Members of Parliament for her government partner, the Progress Party, believe it’s time for a national ban on begging instead of leaving it up to local governments.

“I react strongly to this,” Solberg told NRK, after watching the documentary. “At the same time, this isn’t anything new, and we pointed to this problem before the election in 2013.” She said the program doesn’t mean “that all beggars are criminals, but that begging is used with criminal intentions.”

Her government partners agree, but they lack a majority in Parliament. “NRK has documented that Romanian ‘beggars’ in Norway are organized, cynical and relatively well-off,” wrote MPs Harald Tom Nesvik and Ulf Leirstein in a commentary published Wednesday. “Not least we see that begging in most cases is a ruse for criminal activity. Who’s really surprised by that?”

To see photos from the Brennpunkt program, and the program itself, click here (external link to NRK, in Norwegian, but excerpts of the subjects’ own video that’s been posted on social media are in Romanian.)

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

  • JARODX

    Romanian citizens are also angered about these people with a Romanian passport which give the Norwegian media the possibility to make Romanians look bad. Obviously they were having the same habits in Romania before moving to rich Norway but most of them are part of a different race called GYPSY.

  • Rasvan Lalu

    “… Romanian women who beg on the streets of Bergen during the day change
    into fashionable clothing in the evening and start selling themselves at
    night…” is a situation which appears to be inspired from a B movie script, rather than reality. For someone knowing the kind of persons and the type of behaviour engaged in begging, the story seems quite implausible. For the (Western) audience at large, it fits exactly the stereotypes, thus, it must be true.

    • richard albert

      To paraphrase Wikipedia, ‘This comment needs some cleanup’. Let us start with “(Western) audience at large”, which goes on to posit a stereotype. “Western Audience at large”, medium-sized or miniscule is a really obvious stereotype.
      The deprecation of “B movie script” is equally stereotypical. The term originated as a studio designation for inexpensively made second features which were billed with feature films in order to add audience appeal. The popular usage of the term to decry a motion picture as having exploitation-style content is a neologism.
      You represent yourself as a person familiar with this situation, but you offer no concrete support for this assertion. You may well be such, but offer us an anecdote; some credential… give us a reason to believe you, because we really want to.

      • Sanchez Vasile

        You are absolutely right. Not only these things are made possible by the organized crime, but they are coordinated at the highest levels of the state. Just two things – Targu Jiu is the hotbed for the masonic organization that leads now Romania (there are more of them, but this one lead continuously for the last 15 years) and also the place where from Ceausescu was recruiting most of his political collaborators, while the logistic base for all the begging networks was in Bucharest, in a neighbourhood inhabited by intelligence officers, protecting these networks from imprudent police interference. The fact that they are Gypsies is just a fake target, their bosses are romanians. While they need to go away, for sure, there is much more danger in the romanians hired in normal jobs, who are stealing technologies (including military ones) or are taking over the company after the director misteriously dies, or are mapping their workplace that is afterwards set on fire by “a muslim fanatic” etc. So the danger is not of the type “begging gypsies”, but “assaulting spies”. Not many, only few millions abroad and other millions on tripping for half of their active life. You see, to save yourselves and the West you don’t have to be restrictive or tolerant. You need to have smart restrictions and smart tolerance and to know well who are your friends and enemies. Everything you learned five or ten years ago is obsolete.

    • Rudi

      It is unthinkable to you. This aversion of course is not based on reality (look around you) but rather the conflict between your personal identity and the obvious reality. It is not the entire truth but there is truth in it, and it may be incomfortable to address the role that these people play in your life but reality is reality. It is not “westerners” that are begging in the street (your streets) or raping, beating an robbing people.

  • Obiectiv

    It is a very sensitive subject . In general criminalities is suport with help of family , society,etc. Dignity for some people mind give money and keep people on street-just for feeling good . I give some I make my part ….but finally wonder why is getting the thinks so far …I am not agree with druggs, prostitution and is still happend …why …maybe because of my support ….

    But if I give trought NGO lot of of money is going maybe to administration , some salaries, some bank rent,travels , accomodations,etc and also some help for poor people but I am not happy …I feel not that I give personal , I feel so good when some poor people say …Thank u …youa re so good with me , are you? Do you wish for your children to stay on street? To have this “‘dignity’? Or do you want for your child to learn , to be usefull , to earn some money -not just receive to do nothing for ….why do we have not the same measure for all uman beeing ?! That is my question ? Why ?

    If you dont trust in NGO that is ok …..make some trips to Romani, Bulgary , Sirie , no matter where ,…leave there 20 years , understand the culture of this people , teir history and make some change trought you life exemple …..Wow that is too much for me …I can understand that …for me it is the same …but I still want to help .

    Measure the risk factor and give your donation where is less risk , exactly what you do with your investition …My money make some new jobs? Motivation some people to work ? My money help on long term of education of poor people? Or just make some utopische(hilarios) situation( people with huge house three levels and not running water and wc in forest?!

    My money can help somebody to selfdevelopment or help somebody to not thinks how to make a money on sustenabile way and in perspective?

    Why my children need to learn in Romania, Bulgary, when after finished the university get less money working then begging?

    Is a very riskant precedent ….many wishes from Romanian , bulgarian children is to be adults and go in west for making money …..why …because somebody want to feel good…

    Before to have actions think about it ……and suport on right way , honest way and bring some hope to poor people but false dreams….

    Is not easy , take times , take efforts and it is lot of dissipointment on this …but helping on real way can give hope and perspective.

    It is your money , your responsabilithy what you do with it ?

    It is your choose of reaction .

    May God help you to get a right decision !

  • Obiectiv

    …..

  • Rudi

    I am honestly curious as to wether or not some nations (Germany, Sweden, Norway…) have a suicidal impulse at this point.