The Criminalization of Poverty

May 21, 2013 § 1 Comment

  There is a debate going on in Norway, particularly in Oslo, about what to do or rather not to do with Romani people. The discourse raging in the media goes more or less along these lines: Romani people come to Norway as beggars organized or not by human trafficking gangs, eat, sleep and defecate in the streets, and lately demand, supported by local actors, that the state should provide a minimum of service to them (like public bathrooms or a roof to sleep). Their presence in the streets either increases criminality or is plainly annoying. People interviewed think that either they should get a job (and not just beg for money), or they think that giving a couple of coins “is not going to solve the problem”. In conclusion, politicians have felt some sort of pressure to do something and in the city of Oslo they have recently introduced a law that prohibits setting up a tent or sleeping in public zones like parks or other green areas. Although this prohibition is mainly targeted towards Romani people camping in public areas, it also affects other groups like drug addicts and homeless who also happen to sleep in the streets.

The introduction, or rather the expansion of this prohibition, has also stormed a lot of criticisms and last night a large group of priests and other people working in humanitarian organizations decided to camp in a public park as a way to show their protest. They demand that if the state is going to penalize outdoor sleeping, they should provide alternatives for those unable to afford a roof. Particularly, it has been argued that there is an ongoing trend to criminalize poverty. Surely there are other ways to deal with beggars or homeless rather than by prohibiting their daily presence in our lives?

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