Beggars are back on the streets of Oslo and many other Norwegian cities, and officials fear their numbers will break a new record this summer. A judge who leads the Council of Europe’s efforts to fight human trafficking urges a ban on begging by foreigners in Norway.
Hanne Sophie Greve, an appeals court judge in Norway and human rights expert, told newspaper Aftenposten on Thursday that it’s naive to think the foreign beggars in Oslo are not victims of human trafficking.
“We know that human trafficking is connected to organized begging, burglary or a combination of both in Romania and neighboring countries,” Greve told Aftenposten. “We also know it’s quite brutal, and a variation of a modern slave trade.”
She thinks Norwegian authorities contribute to trafficking by failing to investigate whether the beggars are being exploited or forced into the practice.
Norway’s former state law against begging was repealed in 2006, leaving local governments with few means by which to crack down on the begging that since has blossomed on the streets of Norwegian towns and cities.
“People are being lured into the situation, driven around, put in place and picked up afterwards,” said the head of Oslo’s city government, Stian Berger Røsland. “We know that the money often contributes towards financing crime. It’s a problem for the city.”
Police can only try to limit aggressive beggars who harass pedestrians. Officials in Bergen now require beggars to register with the police, a measure authorities in Asker og Bærum west of Oslo are trying to duplicate.
Ada Engebrigtsen of the Norwegian social research institute NOVA doesn’t agree that the eastern European beggars in Norway are victims of human trafficking. She told Aftenposten that she’s interviewed several, and claims they’re part of families that have expanded their operations from Romania to the rest of Europe. They beg, collect bottles and sell anything they can obtain.
“Everthing I’ve seen confirms they are people trying to make a living, to send money home, and they come here voluntarily,” Engebrigtsen told Aftenposten. She claims it’s “inhumane” to chase them away.
Greve, Røsland and the police nonetheless urge against giving the beggars any money.
“Why contribute towards maintaining the market?” queried Greve, who predicts Norway will be an even more attractive destination for beggars or those allegedly controlling their operations, because of the financial crisis elsewhere in Europe.