Justice Minister keen to halt begging

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Norway’s Justice Minister Knut Storberget has come out in favour of reimposing some sort of ban on begging, even though his government was in power when an earlier ban was repealed. Today’s level of begging, he told newspaper Aftenposten, “has simply gone too far.”

Storberget agrees with claims by judge and human rights expert Hanne Sophie Greve that many of the beggars now on the streets of Norwegian cities are victims of human trafficking. Many come from Romania and other eastern European nations, in what she and several other officials believe are organized bands controlled by criminal traffickers.

Greve urged a new ban on begging by foreigners in Norway, as a means of not only clearing the streets of what’s become a site many find unpleasant, but also to prevent the beggars’ exploitation by their alleged controllers.

Repealing the repeal
Norway’s earlier ban on begging was repealed in 2006 as a means of deterring local drug addicts from a life of crime. It was better, reasoned the government and members of Parliament at the time, to allow them to seek small change from sympathetic passersby than to risk them committing crimes to finance their next fix.

An unexpected side-effect, however, was that legions of foreign beggars would descend on the streets of relatively affluent Norwegian cities and towns, to try their luck. Oslo, for example, is now full of beggars who peddle roses, play accordions with a cup in front of them or simply wail and plea for handouts, often aggressively.

“Greve is right,” said Storberget. The amount of begging in Norway now “has taking on completely new dimensions and is of an entirely different character then when we removed the ban on begging (called tigging in Norwegian). It has simply gone too far.”

Unusual support
Storberget also joined Greve in urging Norwegians against giving money to the beggars. As head of the Norwegian police force, he further said he will ask the police to investigate the trafficking claims. He also asked his staff at the justice ministry to find legal means of cracking down on the foreign beggars without banning begging by poor or addicted Norwegians. 

That may not be easy, so Storberget said he’s willing to propose a new law against begging if necessary, and then enforce it. He even has the support of the opposition Progress Party.

“I see the dilemma that we may also hurt drug addicts who are trying to avoid criminal acts,” Progress Party leader Siv Jensen told Aftenposten. “But even though our drug rehab programs are inadequate, we can’t let that stop us from doing something about the widespread begging.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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