Photo credit: BBC World Service via Flickr (Attribution 2.0)
Photo credit: BBC World Service via Flickr (Attribution 2.0)

Let me paint you a picture: Houses made out of plywood, or whatever materials can be found. Some of the better-off inhabitants may have cars to sleep in. No electricity, no shower or laundry facilities, actually no running water or sanitation whatsoever. Food is cooked over open fires, and that’s also the only way to get heating. The inhabitants spend their days begging outside the shops in the city. Any children living there do not attend school.

Where do you think that picture belongs? South Africa? Brazil? Moldova?

How about Sweden?

I know what you’re thinking: That’s impossible. Not in socialist Sweden, the country of safety nets drenched in milk and honey.

But it’s true. Shanty towns are now a reality in Sweden (see pictures herehere and here). So what happened? Did we abolish the welfare state overnight while you guys were looking the other way?

No. Here’s what happened: Beginning in 2014, free movement was introduced between Romania, Bulgaria and the rest of the EU. Romania & Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007, but were not immediately allowed to enter the free movement zone. For those unfamiliar with the EU, the way it works is that a citizen of an EU member country is free to move to another EU country without getting a visa – you just need a passport and you’re good to go. However, there is a requirement that you do not become a burden on the country you’re moving to. But, as long as you can provide for yourself and stay on the right side of the law, you’re free to go live anywhere in the union. That sounds reasonable enough, doesn’t it?

Sadly, not everyone agrees. When the EU ended restrictions on free movement with Bulgaria & Romania, thousands and thousands of their citizens – nearly all of them from the Roma minority – flooded to Sweden. Not to work, mind you, but to sit outside our shops and beg for change. Apparently panhandling in Sweden yields a higher standard of living than what they had in Romania (it should be noted that the average salary in Romania is about 1/8 what it is in Sweden).

This shouldn’t really be an issue though – just send them home. That’s what virtually every other EU country does. Just criminalize panhandling. Sure we have free movement, but it’s not like free movement was ever intended to let people come to other countries and beg.

And this is where Sweden’s absurd political culture kicks in, a culture that has two defining ingredients: A great distaste for anything resembling patriotism and national identity, and a socialistic love for the welfare state.

So with Roma immigrants flooding the country, building shanty towns on the edges of all our major cities, what do Swedish politicians do? That’s right: They provide social welfare. City after city in Sweden has yielded to pressure, mainly from left-winged groups (and some misguided Christians), to offer everything from accommodation to food, clothing, laundry and shower facilities etc. Of course, the immigrants have no legal right to any of this help.

The fact that this will only incentivize more beggars to come here is completely ignored. We have (at least) 5 000 of them right now. There are millions of them still left in Romania alone. It would not surprise me if we have 50 000 by the end of the year. Some may think that the “market” for panhandling would be satiated eventually – there are only so many shops, and only so many Swedes willing to part with their money. But if these people get welfare, they no longer depend on begging to survive, and so it doesn’t matter if begging becomes unprofitable (which is not to say that they’ll stop begging – more money will simply be sent home to relatives instead). Most Swedes assume that no-one would beg unless they are absolutely desperate, which is true for Swedes – which is also why I hardly ever encountered a beggar growing up in Sweden. In the Roma community however, some families have been beggars for generations. If your dad is a beggar, your grandpa was a beggar, your uncles and aunts are beggars etc. you won’t think of begging as something to be ashamed of, but rather as something you do to pay the bills. In these communities there is no stigma attached to asking strangers for change instead of seeking honest work, but that’s a reality Swedish politicians won’t face.

The absurdity doesn’t end here though.

We have homelessness in Sweden too. In fact, we have more homeless people per capita than the United States, numbering 30 000 in total. These people are not given the same benefits as the Roma immigrants. In my hometown of Örnsköldsvik the city opened a shelter (in co-operation with a local church), but only allowed Roma immigrants to use it. If you were Swedish and homeless, you were out of luck. And this has happened in dozens of cities around the country – politicians stress out about how to aid the Roma immigrants who aren’t even homeless, while ignoring everyone with a Swedish passport. Could you ever imagine a city in the US not only opening a shelter for illegal immigrants from Mexico, but also denying any less fortunate Americans from using it? I can’t see even the most fervent amnesty-supporter suggesting that.

And no, these immigrants cannot be classified as homeless, as they do have homes – in Romania & Bulgaria. Travelling to Sweden by bus (which is how most of them get here) costs around $180, which is the kind of money no homeless person would be expected to have in any country, least of all a country where the average monthly salary is about $460. It sounds absurd, but you have to be relatively well off to become a beggar in Sweden. These people would not have starved if they had stayed in Romania (nobody is starving in Romania), and they won’t starve if they are sent back.

But let’s get back to the shanty towns. You may be wondering how shanty towns can arise in a first world country.

The truth is that the beggars are illegally occupying private land (and public parks). Now you may think this should be easy to solve – the landowner calls the police, and the police removes them. That’s how it would work in any normal country, but this is Sweden we’re talking about. The landowners have tried to have them removed of course, but the police have for the most part refused, usually by stating that you can’t evict someone without being able to identify them. Essentially, this means that the landowner has to find out the full names of the people who are invading his property (and it’s not like they’ll identify themselves), or the police won’t lift a finger. The other excuse is that you can’t legally evict someone if you can’t provide alternative accommodation for them, which ignores that 1) Yes, you can (it happens all the time to Swedes) and 2) There is alternative accommodation for them in their own countries. Again, they are not homeless.

Adding insult to injury, Swedish authorities have stated they will fine landowners for the littering caused by the immigrants. Imagine having someone literally defecate on your property (shanty towns lack sanitation, remember), and then being told that you can’t evict that person and that you now have to pay a fine because the place is disgusting.

How did things go so wrong? Really, I would say this is what happens when multiculturalism meets socialism. If on the one hand you believe all cultures are equally good and that nations are artifical, and on the other hand that society must take care of those in need (regardless of their personal responsibility for their situation), then a logical conclusion is that society must take care of everyone who is in need, regardless not only of their personal responsibility for their situation but also of their nationality. And while we do have property rights in Sweden – we’re not the USSR – they aren’t considered nearly as important as they are in more capitalistic countries like the US, so it makes sense that property rights can be ignored in the interest of helping poor foreigners who never have and never will pay taxes to the Swedish state (or most likely any other state).

Those who object to a ban on panhandling state that this is “banning poverty” and that it doesn’t “solve the problem”. To them I would like to ask; is the current situation solving any problems? Parents abandon their children in Romania to become beggars in Sweden. If we help them, we’ll get more of them – we risk being absolutely swamped by tens if not hundreds of thousands of begging immigrants if we don’t put an end to this. We can’t help all of them and we all know it.

They say we need to “put pressure” (whatever that means) on Romania to help their own citizens and stop discriminating against Roma. While there is no doubt that Romas at least in the past have faced extreme discrimination in Romania and elsewhere, by letting the Roma immigrate to Sweden we are if anything making their voice weaker in Romania (by decreasing their share of Romania’s population). By making them stay in Romania, we prevent the Romanian authorities from hiding the problem by shipping these people away.

Finally, defenders of these immigrants claim that they come here looking for jobs, and only resort to begging when they are unable to find jobs. This however is unrealistic for a number of reasons: The unemployment rate is lower in Romania than in Sweden, so your chances of getting a job are better there. This goes in particular if you lack formal education, as Sweden’s high-tech economy doesn’t have a lot of work to offer those who do not possess college degrees (their chances are better in the less-developed parts of Europe). I also don’t think anyone could seriously believe that they could get a job in Sweden without speaking Swedish or English. These people know what they are doing when they get on a bus to Sweden. They hear of people who have gone to Sweden and made (by their standards) big money by panhandling, and they decide to have a go at it. Kind of how people once flocked to California during the gold rush, except the miners were actually willing to work.

I know many people will object to me “singling out” the Roma community. Why do I call them “Roma” rather than just Romanian/Bulgarian? Two reasons: They are Roma, and I’m not a big fan of political correctness. In fact, the people who dislike these beggars the most are all the hard-working Romanians and Bulgarians (and that’s most of them) who do not want to be “painted with the same brush” and lumped together with them, which I think is perfectly fair. While there may be mitigating circumstances for the way the Roma behave, it doesn’t change the fact that they are Roma and not representative for the overall population in Romania and Bulgaria (and yes, I know far from all Romani people beg – but it’s an undeniable fact that they are over-represented among beggars and that begging is more culturally acceptable among Roma).

A plurality of Swedes (49 % – 36 %) support a ban on panhandling, and yet 7/8 parties represented in our parliament refuse to see reason (the 8th party is the Sweden Democrats, a national conservative party that I happen to be a member of). Personally I think the establishment fears that by giving in on this issue, they could provoke a general anti-immigration backlash – if it becomes acceptable to question benefits to immigrants, pretty soon Swedes are going to start asking follow-up questions like why we are giving asylum to seven times as many refugees every year as the average European country and why we are giving them benefits while asking (and getting) nothing in return.

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