The Swedish government has told its citizens not to give money to beggars or let the panhandlers’ children attend school, after the number of EU migrants on its streets from countries such as Romania and Bulgaria more than doubled.
The government has appointed a national coordinator to look into how to prevent poor EU migrants from heading to the small and wealthy Scandinavian country. According to the broadcaster SVT, between 3,400 and 4,100 EU migrants were begging in Sweden last Spring, up from an estimated 800 to 2,000 the year before.
But the number could be even higher as bigger municipalities have difficulties counting the migrants.
They are mainly Roma coming from Romania and Bulgaria, but also from the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. They can now be found everywhere in the Sweden – even in Kiruna, the northernmost town in the country.
The new report published by the national coordinator Martin Valfridsson said that Sweden should not let the children of the panhandlers go to school. Instead of giving money to beggars on the street, Swedes should donate the money to established organisations, he said.
“I don’t think it will help individuals out of poverty in the long term. I believe the money would be spent better at aid organisions in the countries where these migrants are from,” Valfridsson said during a news conference.
Sweden’s Minister for Children, the Elderly and Equality, Åsa Regnér, pointed out that “everyone is allowed to do what they want, but we believe that supporting organisations who work with people’s lives in Romania and Bulgaria makes sense if you’re wondering how to help out.”
Apart from the growing number of EU migrants, Sweden also received more than 160,000 asylum seekers and migrants from outside of the EU in 2015, the highest amount of any EU member state per capita. The Minister for Migration, Morgan Johansson, has vowed that around half of the asylum seekers will be sent back to their home countries in the coming years.
Nevertheless, the report also attracted criticism from the human rights organisation Civil Rights Defenders. “The report is very upsetting. It lacks the human rights perspective,” said Robert Hårdh from the organisation.
Thomas Hammarberg, chairman of a Swedish commission against racism towards Roma, argued that both donating money to aid organisations and directly to the beggars are “commendable paths.”
“We find it rather odd that an official representative advises Swedes from providing humanitarian aid to individuals. It is quite unique actually,” he told the news agency TT.
Florin Leu, who has lived in Sweden the past two years, expressed criticism that Swedes are now encouraged to give money to the aid organisations instead of putting them directly in her cardboard cup.
“No aid organisation has ever helped me,” she told SVT, “So it would be better if I got the money so that I can help my family in Romania,” she said.
The Roma are Europe's largest ethnic minority, EU figures show. The European Commission estimates the Roma population in the EU at 11 million, with their origins tracing back to mediaeval India.
Census statistics show that 535,000 Roma live in Romania, 370,000 in Bulgaria, 205,000 in Hungary, 89,000 in Slovakia and 108,000 in Serbia. Some 200,000 Roma are estimated to live in the Czech Republic and Greece, while 500,000 live in Turkey.
- SVT: Begging investigation: Do not put money in the cups [in Swedish]
- SVT: Beggars: Please keep giving us money [in Swedish]
- SVT: Criticism of the beggars report: "Upsetting" [in Swedish]