Police: Criminalising panhandling no solution to growing number of beggars
Seminar ponders problem of itinerant beggars
Jaakko Heinilä, head of the foreigners’ department of the Helsinki police, does not believe that passing a law banning begging would solve the growing problem of beggars on city street.
"Begging is no crime. If it is made illegal, what would happen? Would we hand out fines? They might pay the fines, or might not", Heinilä said on Thursday at a seminar pondering the problem on Thursday.
Taking part in the seminar were officials of Finland's largest cities, as well as representatives of the police and government ministries.
Expelling individual mendicants is also no solution in Heinilä’s view.
The begging problem extends throughout the European Union, and trends are hard to predict. "The beggars are currently Roma from Romania, but suddenly they might come from Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovenia - movements are very fast", Jaakko Heinilä said.
Helsinki is preparing for the arrival of up to hundreds of travelling beggars this summer.
"According to the most recent forecasts, thousands are expected in Oslo in the summer. We don’t know how many of them are coming to Finland", said Hannu Hakala, head of the Safety and Preparedness Coordinating Division of the City of Helsinki.
"Ten, twenty, even thirty are manageable, but if 200 of them arrive, then what is a small problem will become a big one", Hakala said.
The begging phenomenon has spread from the Finnish capital to other cities.
One of the reasons to hold the seminar was so that officials in different parts of the country might take a unified stance toward the beggars.
"We are trying to ponder in advance what might be done about a possible increase in begging so that we wouldn’t have to explain later why nothing was done", Hannu Hakala said.
Jaakko Heinilä noted that the beggars have left their homes in search of a better life. He warned that exploitation might continue in Finland, and criminality might come as well.
There have not been any serious indications of widespread crime or exploitation, but some signs have been seen.
"Begging turfs have have been divided. Someone might collect the money, but it can be a family member, for instance. Children have disappeared from the street scene", Heinilä said.
The latter phenomenon comes from the fact that officials in Helsinki are able to take measures when underage children are involved.
The first day of the two-day seminar was held in Helsinki. The event continues on Friday in Stockholm, where local security, social, and police officials tell their Finnish colleagues about experiences in Sweden.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Helsinki to launch campaign to discourage giving money to beggars (19.3.2008)
Finn working with Roma in Romania does not expect flood of beggars in Helsinki (13.2.3008)
Majority of residents in Helsinki region want to ban begging (7.1.2008)
Helsinki police find stolen goods in van used by Romanian beggars (19.11.2007)