Swedish town wants to ban begging
The years-long debate about begging in public in Sweden has just received a dramatic lift - with a small town northwest of Stockholm announcing that it will be the first in the country to ban beggars from its streets.
Some question the legal validity of such a ban while others cheer what they call an overdue crackdown on human trafficking.
The re-appearance of beggars on the streets of Stockholm and other Swedish streets some 2 decades ago was a real chock - such street scenes belongd to the past, after a century of welfare state building, dwindling gaps between the rich and the poor, and the image of a prosperous Sweden surviving the devastation of World Wars leaving much of the rest of Europe in ruins and hungry.
The early debate noted that the beggars were - and are - often from abroad.
The arguments - is it illegal to beg? Or just non-Swedish? Would a ban infringe on human rights or kindle anti-foreigner feelings?
Some argue that the beggars may not be hungry loners at all - but also part of organized gangs, pulling in large sums of money. Perhaps a child or youngster - in the control of gangs - with several gang members stationed close by to monitor the action - and make sure the youngster didn't escape.
The town of Sala just north west of Stockholm is adding its fire to the heated debate by declaring it intention to ban the beggar - noting that all political parties on the town council agree.
The council chairman, Social Democratic Per Olof Rapp tells Swedish Radio News that the aim is to clear the beggars from the streets.
He adds that even in that small town, three or four beggars pop up on the street corners … with others standing near-by in control.
The aim is to hand out fines - not jail sentences .. with the police deciding what is begging - and what is harmless action as collecting for charity or those little children dressed as Easter witches at this time of year begging for candy and coins.
The Sala council chairman is convinced that the police are competent enough to make the right decisions - and that this is a real way to crack down on trafficking of human being and criminal gang activities.
Speaking to Radio Sweden, country police information officer Börje Strömberg is confidant that the ban will be approved by the country council so that it can go into effect next month.
He's also sure that the ban will spread from the town of Sala throughout the country and throughout Sweden.
Other observers are not sure - since although those local Sala politicians have reached agreement over party lines, the political parties on a national level have been very wary or are against promoting any ban on beggars - fearing this will be seen as not only a violation of human rights and freedom of movement and expression, but would also kindle xenophobic attitudes of those anti-foreigner feelings.
It is only the newcomers to the Swedish parliament - the anti-immigrant and anti-refugee Sweden Democrats – who are flatly in favour of a ban on beggars.
Sweden Democrat Kent Ekeroth sees such a ban as a way for the police to cleanse the streets and make this Nordic nation a more pleasant place.
But among the established party's parliamentarians, there are strong efforts to keep a wide distance from the anti-foreigner party.
Maria Ferm of the opposition Greens rejects the idea of a ban, and says there are better ways to combat poverty and begging than banning it.
Lena Olsson of the opposition Left Party argues that she doubts that a ban is an effective way to combat begging.
At the Stockholm headquarters of the national police is Per Lövenberg, is charge of migration questions.
How does he feel about the news that the town of Sala is eager to ban begging?