Begging in Austria

PEOPLE ASKING (BEGGING) FOR MONEY IN VIENNA ARE OFTEN FROM EASTERN EUROPE

Although forced prostitution is one of our main areas, we also deal with many other topics related to human trafficking, labour exploitation and other exploitative circumstances in which people can be trapped in. Thereby, we also look after clients who were/are forced to beg.

It is extremely difficult to estimate the number of people begging in the streets of Vienna. Currently, the police are aware of 450 people from Romania, 300 from Bulgaria and other smaller groups from Slovakia and Hungary. According to the Federal Criminal Police Office, the number of unreported cases is likely to be higher.

The police differentiate people who are begging into three groups: impoverished beggars, organised beggars and beggars as victims of human trafficking. Criminal gangs are not automatically the ones behind organised begging. Nevertheless, begging is not a legal or self-determined line of work. Usually, there is a network or small group who organises the transport of people from Eastern Europe to Austria.

It is clearly specified where and when people beg and where and when they sleep. The price for accommodation is disproportionately high – considering that it is often only a mattress in an overcrowded apartment for a certain time of day (so-called lodgers). It is difficult to intervene in these areas as most people have, at least to some degree, agreed to the whole thing of their own free will. Therefore, it is seen as a legal grey area.

EASTERN EUROPEAN PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES SOMETIMES SEE NO OTHER OPTION THAN BEGGING

If you carefully stroll through the streets of Vienna, you will notice that many beggars have physical disabilities. The authorities in Austria are not aware of any forced mutilation by a ‘begging mafia’. Many physically disabled people end up elsewhere due to the inadequate social policies in Eastern European countries. In Romania, for example, there are no appropriate disability facilities or adequate medical and financial support for Roma. Bulgaria is another Eastern European country in which the situation for the physically and mentally disabled is insufficient. People who are physically

Or mentally unable to work will hardly have enough to survive – despite the care allowance they are provided with by the State. For many, begging is the only way to provide for themselves and their families.

Even those who are physically able to work, do not freely choose to beg for themselves. People who come from structurally weak regions or are poorly trained have little chance of finding work in their home country. Even young, physically fit people are sorely aware of the bad social system. A serious illness, the loss of a working family member, having to take care of relatives or accidents – these life-changing turning points can affect anyone at any time and in a country with a poor social system, this can catapult a person or entire family into poverty.

The reasons for coming to Austria vary from person to person. Some come in the hope of a job, others see no other perspective than begging. They often stay for a few weeks or months and send the money back home to their families. Sometimes, even their own families put so much pressure on the individual that they have no other choice than to go begging.

BEGGARS ARE STRONGLY DISCRIMINATED IN AUSTRIA

A general ban on begging in Austrian cities, which has been the subject of many discussions, would only punish the victims and not contribute to the prosecution of perpetrators of human trafficking. So far, intrusive begging and begging by minors has been prohibited. However, an outstretched hand can already be seen as intrusive and can be punished as such. Administrative penalties for organised begging can already be imposed if a person begs several times in the same place. These severe restrictions are justified as contributions towards the fight against human trafficking.

According to the Caritas, a major social service organisation worldwide, and the Bettellobby, an Austrian initiative fighting for fundamental rights for begging and raising awareness for these topics, actual proof of human trafficking and forced labour are very rare in the begging sector. Identifying those affected is extremely difficult for social workers or authorities. Many victims have had bad experiences with displacement, racism and humiliation in Austria so that there is little trust in police representatives and social services. Some do not even perceive themselves to be exploited, especially if they have a family relationship with the exploiter.

In order to sustainably improve the situation of begging and labour exploitation with regard to begging, the Platform against Exploitation and Human Trafficking calls, among other things, for the strengthening of victim protection institutions and the relevant NGOs in order to identify exploited people more quickly. In addition, representatives of the authorities should be trained in non-discriminatory communication and on the topic of antiziganism to raise awareness of the life situations from which those affected come from.

QUALIFIED SOCIAL WORK AND LABOUR INTEGRATION AS A SOURCE OF HELP

Personnel with appropriate language and cultural skills are required to identify victims of human trafficking and to accompany and assist them in the work integration project. Most of our male clients are/were beggars. Adrian is only one of them (the name was changed to protect our client’s privacy). At first, he attended our German course in Vienna. He also gave our sewing classes a try but was not really enthusiastic about it. He preferred to work with people and was interested in our hotel project. This requires a certain stability, reliability and knowledge of German. Thanks to our cooperation with a seminar hotel in Lower Austria, clients get the opportunity to learn about and train in the different areas of the hotel industry. In addition, well-equipped living spaces are provided and HOPE FOR THE FUTURE assists our clients living there in any way they need. Adrian has been living and working there for a few months now and is very happy.

In order to financially stabilise HOPE FOR THE FUTURE’s work and projects in this area and to be able to expand it every donation is urgently needed. Support us by donating or actively volunteering. Every gesture is greatly appreciated and helps us further develop our projects.  

Translated by Sophie Kitchen

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