08:24 GMT +321 July 2019
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    Homeless Roma

    On the Mooch: Copenhagen Struggles With Roma Beggars

    © AFP 2019 / VIKTOR DRACHEV
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    Of late, the Danish capital of Copenhagen has been struggling with homeless Roma and Eastern Europeans who are camping illegally in the city's parks and begging in the streets. The mayor of Copenhagen has even called for tougher regulations to cope with the scourge.

    As of September, Copenhagen police have already charged 194 people for sleeping illegally and begging, as opposed to 187 people during the whole last year. The Roma make up "a clear preponderance" among those charged, Kenneth Damkjær, a police commissioner from the police immigration department, reported.

    "It may be that they are homeless here, but our impression is that many of them have their own homes back in Romania," Kenneth Damkjer told Danish newspaper Berlingske.

    Additionally, public complaints against the beggars and squatters have increased as per police records. In Denmark, it is not permitted to stay overnight in open public spaces, such as city parks and squares and neither is it allowed to sleep on privately-owned or municipal properties. Similarly, it is not permitted to stay in private areas, violations of which are fined. According to Damkjær, the current legislation is "somewhat inadequate."

    "What they [the Roma] have most respect for, it is expulsion. However, this cannot not be done because they are EU citizens. If offenders were deported instead of prison, it would have a preventive effect. It may not seem so daunting to sit in a Danish jail or being fined," Damkjær said.

    However, the current law allows police to remove illegal camps only from municipal properties but not from public streets and alleys, which is something Copenhagen City Mayor, Frank Jensen, aims to address in the near future.

    "At present, police do not have authority to remove camps on public streets, which I believe to be unsustainable," Jensen told Danish national newspaper Berlingske, ensuring that there should "room left for vulnerable and homeless locals, who also are part of our city."

    Jensen stressed that cleaning up the beggars and illegal camps is a task for the police, which has not been properly addressed. The Danish government's so-called 2025 plan paves the way for criminalizing all forms of illegal stay.

    "Unfortunately, a removal is often only a short-term solution, because we have experienced that the illegal camps soon reappear either at the same spot or nearby," Jensen told Berlingske.

    A group of migrants check a departure board at Copenhagen Central Station, Denmark
    © REUTERS / Asger Ladefoged/Scanpix Denmark/Files
    Those caught sleeping illegally are issued a fine. When it comes to begging, first-time offenders are released with a warning. The second time, they are given suspended sentence and the third time an unconditional judgment.

    Meanwhile, Roma beggars have become a common sight in all the Nordic countries, despite the harsh climate. Over the last few years, Denmark's northern neighbor Sweden has been overwhelmed with Roma beggars from Romania and Bulgaria. Earlier this year, government-appointed National Coordinator for Vulnerable EU Citizens Martin Valfridsson found that there were around 4,000 Roma in Sweden, a nation of almost 10 million, Swedish national broadcaster SVT reported.

    ​A decade ago, begging was still considered eradicated in Sweden. In 1964, the law of 1847 against begging was successfully abolished as obsolete, as the welfare state was considered to be all-encompassing. Today, Stockholm, Malmö and Gothenburg are among the cities with the most beggars per-capita in Europe. More and more locals express uneasiness about the beggars, who sometimes behave aggressively. At present, the Swedish government is considering re-introducing the begging ban.

    Florin Ivanovici, the director of the relief organization Life and Light Foundation in the Romanian capital of Bucharest warned Swedes against giving money to beggars in an interview with Swedish national broadcaster SVT.

    "It is our very strong recommendation not to give money to beggars. It turns panhandling into an occupation; the children at home in Romania are abandoned and often miss school when the parents are away. To give money encourages a life with no future; moving from country to country does not solve their problems."

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    Tags:
    beggars, Roma minority, Sveriges Television, Berlingske, Copenhagen, Scandinavia, Denmark, Sweden
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