Begging on streets OK, not sleeping

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Police were voicing approval on Thursday after city politicians in Oslo, quarreling over how to deal with thousands of migrant poor on the streets of the capital, banned all outdoor sleeping on public property in populated areas. Begging continues to be unrestricted, at least for now.

The politicians had seemed poised to restrict begging as well, after Libe Rieber-Mohn of the Labour Party proposed a ban within what’s known as “Ring 2,” which covers much of central Oslo. Her proposed ban also included begging outside private residences, shopping centers and on board public transportation.

Attempt to ‘limit the scope’
“We wanted to limit the scope of begging that’s going on in Oslo, and chose to take advantage of the possibilities the (state) government has given to restrict begging in certain areas of the city,” Rieber-Mohn said. “We chose to propose a ban in the areas where there are the most challenges.”

She was thus trying to promote the Labour-led government’s proposals announced last week that were met with mixed reviews. Police and politicians in several Conservative-run cities around Norway had claimed they would be difficult if not impossible to enforce, while some labelled them as unrealistic.

Rieber-Mohn thought she’d get majority support on the Oslo City Council (bystyret), but that didn’t happen. Carl I Hagen of the conservative Progress Party, which advocates a total ban on begging in Norway but failed to get one from the government, wasn’t impressed by Rieber-Mohn’s proposal to just “move the problem” out of the city center.

“What have the people living in Groruddalen, Holmlia, Vinderen, Røa or Sandaker (neighourhoods outside Ring 2) done wrong?” Hagen asked, implying that they didn’t deserve to get all the beggars in their areas.

Police wake-up calls
A majority of the politicians ultimately voted to ban sleeping outdoors, in the hopes of ending the problem of the beggars setting up camps with no sanitation facilities. Beggars now found sleeping outdoors will be awakened by police and ordered to move. They can also be fined. The ban forbids camping in parks, plazas and other “green” areas around town, also sleeping in cars or other vehicles.

Around 100 of the beggars, mostly Roma folk, gathered outside City Hall to protest the ban on sleeping outdoors. Asked whether they can understand that their illegal camps lead to littering and sanitation problems, one woman who said she’d been sleeping in Oslo parks indicated she understood the problem “but we have nowhere else to go. If we get an offer of garbage cans and toilets, we would use them.” Politicians have been reluctant to provide facilities such as toilets and showers, for fear that would attract more beggars to Norway.

The approved ban on sleeping outdoors was less than what the police sought but they were pleased to have clear legal means to rout campers from city parks. Politicians from the Socialist Left party (SV), the Reds and MDG (Miljøpartiet De Grønne) voted against the ban. “What will happen to them when they can’t sleep on a bench?” appealed SV Ingvild Reymert from the podium in City Hall. “A roof over your head is a human right.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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