Martin Valfridsson, national co-ordinator for vulnerable EU-citizens in Sweden. Photo: Ulla Engberg/SR
Martin Valfridsson, national co-ordinator for vulnerable EU-citizens in Sweden. Photo: Ulla Engberg/SR

New guidelines: deny school to kids of EU-migrant beggars in Sweden

6:30 min

Children of poor EU migrants who are in Sweden to beg should not be allowed to go to Swedish schools, according to recommendations in a new government-commissioned report.

According to the report, which the national coordinator for vulnerable EU citizens Martin Valfridsson, presented to Åsa Regnér, the Minister in charge of issues to do with children, the elderly and equality, on Monday, there are roughly 5,000 vulnerable and poor EU migrants who are trying to support themselves in Sweden, primarily by begging. A majority come from Romania, and about a thousand come from Bulgaria.

Close to a hundred of these people are children, and while Valfridsson argues that these children are entitled to get help from the Swedish social services just like any other child, he says that they are not eligible to schooling here. He says that schools should be able to make exceptions, for instance for children who have lived in Sweden for many years, but that most children to begging EU migrants should be denied education in Sweden.

"We should not encourage people who beg to bring their kids to Sweden. If the parents do not have a job, they are not entitled to welfare in Sweden, and if they are not we should not open up every school in Sweden for their children. That would mean that these kids would stop going to school in their home countries," Valfridsson says.

The report was commissioned a year ago and was meant to give municipalities and local authorities clearer guidelines regarding EU migrants' rights in Sweden. At that time, the support varied greatly from one municipality to the other, says Valfridsson. Some offered schooling to children and camp sites where their families could live, whereas others offered no support at all. Much of this initial confusion and hesitation has disappeared, says Valfridsson.

"Municipalities are acting in a much more coherent way now compared to a year ago. I have been quite open with my suggestions for a while and I can see that local authorities are handling these issues much more in a similar way," says Valfridsson.

The report also recommends that police step up and evict people living illegally on private or public property, and discourages people in Sweden from giving money to beggars. 

Last fall, Valfridsson floated the idea of introducing a zero tolerance policy against people who camp on private or public property. The report echoes this recommendation and also suggests that municipalities should not to allocate certain areas to EU migrants. Valfridsson argues that by doing so, Sweden risks the development of slums and shanty towns. He says that Swedish police need to step up their efforts and ensure that people who occupy private or public property illegally are evicted.

"Law must be upheld. I have studied the police in Finland and they have more or less the same legislation, but they started following their legislation from the beginning, which has forced EU migrants in Finland to find a legal way of living. I think that the message should be the same here, that you can't have an illegal camp on private or public property," he says.

The proposal was criticised by a number of researchers last year for resembling or moving the debate in the direction of a nationwide ban on begging. Valfridsson, however, does not endorse a ban on begging and says that such a ban would most likely not be very effective. The human rights group Civil Rights Defenders have already criticised the report for lacking a human rights perspective, but Valfridsson responds by saying that Sweden can't offer more help than other European countries.

"It's quite surprising that it's seen as radical to say that the law must be upheld or that everyone should be equal. My intention is to have a human view on this, but you are not allowed to bring your welfare or social rights with you from one European country to another, and Sweden can't go further than the other 27 member states," says Valfridsson.

Last fall, Sweden's minister for children, the elderly and gender equality, Åsa Regnér, wrote an op-ed piece in newspaper Dagens Nyheter where she discouraged Swedes from giving money to beggars, saying that 'begging should not be a profession for anyone' and that the money would be of better use to Swedish help organisations who do work in Romania and Bulgaria. This was also echoed in the report, and Valfridsson says that it is not sustainable to give money directly to beggars on the street.

"I think we should support them, but giving money in the paper mugs risks cementing the role of the beggar and not leading to any long-term solution, you often inherit this situation from your parents. I don't blame people for giving money, but I encourage people to think more about the long-term effects," he says.

Now that the report is complete, Valfridsson suggests that the regional county administrative boards should continue his work and share experiences and information with one another. Later this week, minister Åsa Regnér is going to Bulgaria to sign a bilateral agreement aimed at fighting poverty there and improvomg the living situation of the Roma minority. The measures will be financed by funds from the EU.


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