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HELSINKI (AFP) - Finland took steps Wednesday against begging with a government group recommending it be declared illegal, which human rights activists said would discriminate against migrant Roma.
Finland counts an estimated 200 beggars, most of them Roma from Romania.
The working group's proposal, to be drafted into a bill that would go before parliament, would make public begging and setting up illegal campsites a finable offence and would criminalise organised begging.
"The purpose is not to issue fines to beggars, but to prevent the organised crime behind begging," Interior Minister Anne Holmlund told reporters.
She insisted the measure was not targeted at any ethnic group.
Holmlund and working group chairman Antti Pelttari said a "significant" percentage of beggars were organised and the government wanted to protect those who were forced to come to Finland to beg.
Helsinki police chief superintendent Mika Poery told AFP the law would make it easier for police to stop begging on the streets but they had little evidence of links between organised crime and begging.
"We've investigated claims that some of these people were forced to beg, but the beggars themselves have not corroborated this information," said Poery.
The director of Amnesty International's Finnish division, Frank Johansson, told AFP bill appeared to target Romanian Roma who have come to Finland to beg.
"It's definitely a question of human rights. It's a question of discrimination ... It's clear this law is aimed at the 200 or so Romanian beggars here," he said.
He said the working group was ignoring the underlying problem of poverty, insisting there were better ways of dealing with organised crime than banning begging.
"For Finland to say our solution is to make begging on the streets illegal is not the way to deal with poverty," Johansson said.
Just a decade ago the sight of a tattered man or woman kneeling on the streets of Finland with a paper cup was unheard of, but in recent years begging has become a fixture, especially in Helsinki.
Last Updated (Monday, 11 October 2010 07:30)