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Swedish city votes in favour of permit requirement for beggars

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Swedish city votes in favour of permit requirement for beggars
A man in Malmö pictured begging, with a sign asking for help finding work. Photo: Emil Langvad / TT
16:59 CEST+02:00
A Swedish city council has voted to require people to apply for a permit if they plan to "passively" beg for money -- but the decision could still be overturned before coming into force.

Under the new measures, anyone who wants to "passively collect money" on Eskilstuna's streets and public squares must apply to police for a licence. 

The regulation was voted in by a majority coalition between the Social Democrats, Moderates and Centre Party in the council of Eskilstuna, a city west of Stockholm. The nationalist Sweden Democrats also supported the move, which was opposed by the Left Party, Green Party, Liberals and Christian Democrats.

The council's chairperson Jimmy Jansson said the permit requirement was a way of better regulating begging with the aim of helping those living in hardship, rather than banning the practice.

It could help people "come into contact with (homelessness charity) Stadsmissionen or other charitable organizations, or getting help to travel home again," Jansson said.

Prime Minister Stefan Löfven also commented on the decision, which he described as "interesting".

But a spokesperson for the Moderate Party, which like the Sweden Democrats has called for a nationwide ban on begging, said the party was against the permit requirement and that it "normalizes begging".

It's an issue that has repeatedly come to the fore in political debate in recent years. In 2015, the Justice Minister ruled out a nationwide begging ban, but said the government was looking into making it illegal to profit from beggars, in a bid to tackle organized groups that exploit the vulnerable -- a proposal he reiterated last winter.

But rightwing politicians have called for a blanket ban on the practice.

The new measure in Eskilstuna is set to come into effect from October this year, although it could be overturned by the county administrative board before that date.

In February this year, Sweden's first ever local begging ban was overturned by a county court, on the grounds that asking for money did not represent a significant public disturbance. The council in Vellinge, southern Sweden had voted for the ban, which was criticized by human rights groups, and a court backed the regional government's decision to block it.

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