Norway, one of the richest countries in the world, plans to introduce a ban on begging. More than 60 percent of the population say it should be considered a crime. Beggars would face fines and up to 3 months in prison.
If adopted, the new law will allow local municipalities to introduce an immediate ban on begging and will take effect nationally by summer 2015, the Financial Times (FT) reports.
The idea follows a poll showing that two-thirds of Norwegians equate begging to a crime as the majority of beggars are not Norwegians. According to a government-commissioned report from the Nova research institute there are up to 1,000 foreign beggars among the country's 5 million population.
“In the past few years we have seen an increase in beggars in many cities and towns in Norway and we have a deep concern for the association between the flow of beggars from outside Norway and organized criminality,” the FT quotes Himanshu Gulati, State Secretary at the Justice Ministry and a member of the populist Progress Party.
Opposition politicians argue the ban is shameful and unfairly targets the most vulnerable. They also object saying that the measures could spoil the international image of the country, especially following the debates, whether Norway should shelter Syrian refugees.
“The [begging] ban is very bad and it sends out a very bad signal. It is not that all beggars are criminals or that the problem is so big. It is more like it seems to be a ban to help us to not meet them, the needy who are sitting on our streets,” the FT quotes Kjell Ingolf Ropstad, justice spokesman for the Christian Democrats.
The head of the defense group at the Norwegian Bar Association Frode Sulland, says the ban could counter European human rights rules.
“You can go to almost any city in Europe and there will be a bigger problem with beggars than there is in Oslo. We think there is a right for everybody to ask everybody else for help. This is an activity that in itself doesn’t harm anybody," Sulland said.
A similar anti-begging ban was overturned back in 2005.
Norway has one of the highest GDP per capita at about $100,000 in 2013, according to the International Monetary Fund.