In the NRK Brennpunkt documentary, entitled Lykkelandet (The Land of Happiness), which was filmed over a two-year period, hidden cameras follow residents of a house in the city connected to the Romanian begging community.
A 140-person strong organised Romanian begging and prostitution network is mapped out by the documentary.
The film shows women involved in begging by day and prostitution and bank card theft at night, while large sums were shown to be sent from Norway to Romania.
The documentary has stirred significant debate in the country, with Prime Minister Erna Solberg saying that Norwegians should “think through” whether they give money to beggars.
“[People] can maybe think about whether they are supporting organised crime or an individual person in a difficult situation, the PM said to NRK.
Begging can be used as a cover for organised crime, she added.
“This does not mean that all beggars are a part of it, but that begging can be used with criminal intentions,” Solberg said.
Begging was illegal in Norway until 2005, when a ban on the activity was lifted. Solberg’s Høyre (Conservative) party supports reintroducing the ban should there be parliamentary support.
A number of beggars from the Roma community in Bergen have said that they have noticed a change in atmosphere overnight since the documentary was broadcast, reports newspaper Bergens Tidende.
“At least 11 people have today bought flight tickets back to Romania with support from [Bergen-based shelter] Robin Hood-huset. They say it is unsafe and unpleasant to be in Bergen now,” Robin Hood-huset manager Marcos Amano told the newspaper.
Amano said that staff at the shelter, which provides support for all vulnerable people in the city, had a particularly busy day following the broadcast of the documentary film Tuesday.
“There were around 30 people here for breakfast this morning and the atmosphere was quite strange. Many felt insecure. We have had a lot of visits from people who want help purchasing tickets to go back to Romania and others who wanted to talk about their experiences,” he said.
Amano told Bergens Tidende Wednesday that beggars in the city had reported being threatened and kicked.
“Several people have said today that they have been yelled at, told to go home or other aggressive things. One said he was kicked and hit today when he was collecting bottles. Another said that someone tried to kick him last night and that he was called a ‘dog’ when he was sitting in the street,” he said.
The coordinator said to Bergens Tidende that the reaction was likely to be a result of the documentary, since Bergen’s citizens “do not make a habit of shouting, spitting at or hitting beggars.”
Local politician Erlend Horn told the newspaper that he was contacted by Robin Hood-huset over the harassment incidents, which he then reported to the police.
“It is completely unacceptable that this type of hate crime is happening. We are a better city than that… I understand that people feel provoked by what came out in the documentary, I know I was, but we have to distinguish between cynical crime bosses and people that have nothing to do with this network,” he said.
The NRK Brennpunkt documentary Lykkelandet can be seen in full (Norwegian with Norwegian subtitles) here.