Lawmakers may restore begging ban

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As migrant beggars were ordered to leave their latest mass campsite in Oslo, and others set up new tents outside the national cathedral in Trondheim on Tuesday, government officials are now considering restoring a ban on begging that was revoked six years ago. Police want begging to again be prohibited, because of the crime they claim comes with it.

Several parties in the Norwegian Parliament, including the Conservatives and the Progress Party, have already proposed outlawing begging, to give police the legal means to order beggars off the streets. Among the parties is the small Center Party, which is one of the three parties making up Norway’s left-center coalition government. At least one of its coalition partners, the Socialist Left party (SV), opposes a ban.

‘Many complaints’
The Labour Party is now evaluating a ban, however, after receiving a direct appeal from police officials. State Police Director Øystein Mæland sent a letter to the Labour-led government describing how they’ve received “many complaints” tied to “the monopolization of public places” by foreign beggars who demand “fees” from Norwegian beggars, beg aggressively themselves, litter, occupy abandoned buildings, camp illegally, use public areas as outdoor toilets, discard food that attracts rats and engage in criminal acts. On Tuesday, Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that more migrant Romanian citizens had been arrested after trying to steal empty bottles from a major recycling plant in Oslo.

Mæland believes begging leads to such crimes, and worse. He wrote to the government that as long as begging remains legal in Norway, police have a dilemma over how to respond to complaints from the public.

A begging ban is also seen as a means of discouraging migrant poor, many of whom are Roma folk from Romania and Bulgaria, from traveling to Norway. Cities and towns all over the country have experienced an influx of the migrants this summer who have no place to stay and often end up camping illegally in city parks and other public places.

Pitching tents at Nidaros
On Tuesday, some Roma folk pitched tents on the grounds of the national cathedral Nidarosdomen in Trondheim. They’d been ordered to leave another outdoor area where they’d set up camp, and the local bishop planned a meeting with them later in the day.

Meanwhile, in Oslo, Roma campers were ordered to leave a gravel pit at Årvoll where they’d set up camp at the invitation of its owners early last week. City authorities have since deemed it unfit for human habitation and ordered the area vacated by 6pm on Tuesday. Some campers were in the process of leaving at midday. It was unclear where they would go now, not least since many have fled poverty and discrimination in their home countries and don’t want to return. As residents of an EU country, they have a legal right to remain in Norway for at least three months while seeking work.

Conflict looms around a begging ban, however, with some politicians opposing it and the dominant Labour Party unsure it would help. “We don’t see a foundation for a general ban, but we have one under evaluation,” Kristin Bergersen of the Labour Party, a state secretary in the Justice Ministry, told newspaper Aftenposten. “We looking at all options, also new rules that would require beggars to register with the police.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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