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9th Dec 2016

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Sweden mulls ban on begging

Sweden’s government is considering introducing a ban on begging, after similar restrictions have been put in place in other Nordic countries.

”Begging on Swedish streets can never solve the major problems of exclusion and poverty in Romania and Bulgaria”, Sweden's minister for public administration Ardalan Shekarabi said on Thursday (18 August).

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”The point of departure for this government is to defend and develop the Swedish [social] model. It’s hardly part of the Swedish model to solve poverty with begging,” he added.

He spoke in Reykjavik at a meeting with his Nordic colleagues who had gathered to discuss pressing issues for Nordic municipalities.

Some 4,000 people - mostly Roma people from Romania - are said to be seeking alms in Sweden.

The equality minister Asa Regner, a Social Democrat like Shekarabi, last year urged Swedes to support organisations working with poor people in Romania rather than giving money to those on Sweden’s streets, but said she was against a ban.

The government’s coordinator on begging, Martin Valfridsson, wrote in a report earlier this year it would be difficult to ban the practice.

”You would either have to criminalise the act of asking for help, or criminalise giving. I don’t think either is a good idea,” Valfridsson told Swedish Radio in May.

The government’s turn-around comes after it commissioned a poll on the question, which showed that half of voters support a ban. A quarter were against, and the rest did not have an opinion.

The government’s coalition partner, the Greens, are fiercely opposed to a ban and campaigned for a housing guarantee for EU migrants.

Nordic countries

Two other Nordic countries have introduced restrictions on begging. Under Denmark's national ban, repeated begging can be sentenced with up to six months in prison. In 2014, a Danish government spokesperson said the ban meant that those who wanted to beg could go to Sweden - a statement that strained relations with its Northern neighbour.

Norway failed to introduce a national ban last year, after one of the government’s support parties refused to back the proposal. Some municipalities introduced local bans instead, but only one still has it in force.

Finland’s previous governments have also discussed the idea, but no ban was ever introduced.

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