A town in Norway, one of the world’s wealthiest nations, has become the first in the country to ban begging, a law seen as a direct attack on the Roma community.
Politicians plan to introduce a country-wide ban by the summer.
Al-Jazeera reports that there is just one beggar left in Arendal, who now fears for her livelihood.
“I’ll get to stay, won’t I?” she asked the Al-Jazeera reporter.
“The debate has been marked by spiteful rhetoric based on many stereotypes of who these people are”
The Roma population has increased tenfold in the last six years in the country with the lowest unemployment in the world. Right-wing politicians have condemned Roma “begging rings,” but research disproves the existence of these, instead pointing to the Roma’s begging as a way to feed themselves, and their families.
“The debate has been marked by spiteful rhetoric based on many stereotypes of who these people are,” said Sunniva Orstavik, Norway’s discrimination ombudsman and one of the harshest critics of the ban.
However, Arendal officials deny that the law is racist against Roma people.
“The beggars live in poor conditions. They’ve stayed in service areas outside of town but haven’t kept them up to standard,” said Anders Kylland of Arendal’s Progress Party.
“It’s not the people who perform the begging who are unwanted. It’s the act of begging that the council has forbidden,” Kylland said.
In Norway’s past, forced sterilizations were practiced on Roma women and their children taken into foster care. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance recommended, in a report, that the Norwegian authorities “pursue their dialogue with the representatives of the Romani communities in view of the establishment of a system of reparations for past human rights violations committed against the members of these communities.”
Roma are subjected to persecution across Europe. Between 1 April and 30 June 2014, nearly 4,000 Roma were evicted from their homes in France, with fires in two settlements leaving 51 Roma homeless.