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Norway anti-begging law stopped after global fury

The Local/AFP · 5 Feb 2015, 17:09

Published: 05 Feb 2015 08:51 GMT+01:00
Updated: 05 Feb 2015 17:09 GMT+01:00

The country's right-wing government was forced to withdraw the proposal to slap fines and jail terms of up to one year on beggars and those who help them when the opposition Centre Party withdrew its support, meaning the result of any vote on measures was likely to fall short of a majority in parliament. 
 
'The law would have allowed for the prosecution of anyone found guilty of "complicity" with beggars, including giving them transport, shelter, or supplies.  The ruling coalition argued that the proposal targeted human traffickers and criminal gangs, but it provoked a storm of protest and accusations that the government wanted to make charity illegal.
 
"Punishing people helping beggars is not acceptable," the Centre Party's parliamentary leader Marit Arnstad told news agency NTB. "It cannot be a criminal offence to give people clothes, food and shelter."
 
Opponents of the plan said it unfairly targeted Roma migrants and some threatened a campaign of civil disobedience.
 
"Norway, a country where we prefer to fight poor people rather than poverty," one opponent, Øyvind Steinklev, said on Twitter. 
 
Last year Norway introduced the possibility of banning begging locally but so far just one small southern town, Arendal, has done so.
 
The plans led to an international outcry with  Sweden’s new ‘Roma tsar’ accusing Norway's government of “trying to criminalize poverty”. 
 
Martin Valfridsson, who started on Monday as Sweden's ‘national coordinator for vulnerable EU citizens’, a post created to deal with a recent influx of homeless people from Romania and Bulgaria, aggressively rejected Norway’s approach. 
 
“My immediate response is that I don't see this as the solution for Sweden - turning offering or asking for help into a criminal act,” he told The Local Sweden. “Norway is trying to criminalize poverty.” 
 
The UK’s Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and Independent all reported on the fears that ordinary people risked prison sentences for helping beggars, while contrasting Norway's prosperity with its tough stance towards the homeless. 
 
“Anyone offering a homeless person a cup of coffee or a sandwich on the streets in Norway could soon risk six months to a year in prison under a proposed new law,” the Daily Telegraph wrote on Wednesday. 
 
Norway and Sweden have both been faced with a large increase in the number of street beggars in recent years, as members of the Roma ethnic group travel north from Romania and Bulgaria. 
 
Valfridsson said that Sweden aimed to help the new arrivals “as much as possible”. 
 
Story continues below…
"Beggars cannot uphold the same level of welfare as those who are resident in Sweden, but we should seek to use the resources we have here in the most efficient want to help them as much as possible," he told The Local.
 
He said he aimed to coordinate with authorities in Romania and Bulgaria on how to encourage some of the beggars to return. 
 
"I will also travel to Romania and Bulgaria to see if I can improve coordination between Sweden and charities and organizations there. Most of the beggars do not want to be in Sweden, they want to be reunited with their families. In the long run sitting and begging on the street is not the solution."
 
Begging is already banned in Denmark and has been banned in England since the Vagrancy Act of 1824. 
 

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The Local/AFP (news@thelocal.no)

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