A Swedish man has been sentenced to four months in prison after he stole a tablet computer from his son’s preschool and handed it to a Romanian beggar in an attempt to frame her for theft.
Shortly after giving the device to the woman, the 34-year-old man called police and reported that the beggar had stolen it from a car outside the supermarket where she was asking for money.
The incident in August in the town of Sjobo, in southern Sweden, was just one in a series of cases this year in which beggars – most of them Roma from Romania – have been targeted by people opposed to their presence .
The incident was labelled a hate crime by the prosecutor, who charged the man with theft and making false accusations.
The verdict handed down on Tuesday said the circumstances of the case were aggravating since “a motive for the crime has been to libel her [the beggar] because of her skin colour, national or ethnic origin”.
The woman was detained overnight for questioning, and told police that she had received the tablet from a man accompanied by a young boy.
“This woman had all odds against her – no money, no permanent home, and there was a man who said he’d seen her steal an iPad,” police spokeswoman Ewa-Gun Westford told Al Jazeera.
“But my colleague, a female police, felt that something wasn’t right, that she needed to get to the bottom of it all. And then it turned out that there was surveillance footage available, showing a man giving her the iPad.”
After being confronted with the CCTV footage, the man admitted to the crime.
Increasing number of beggars
In recent years , the number of beggars from poorer European Union countries has skyrocketed in Sweden. Beggars are now positioned outside most supermarkets and metro stops in the capital, Stockholm, and in many small towns, like Sjobo.
People think that by paying tax, they have outsourced their personal responsibility for the poor to the state and should not have to see this. They say other nations, like Romania, are not taking their responsibility.
Some live in encampments of tents and camper vans, while others are spending the harsh winter in the cars they used to travel to Sweden.
Their presence has divided Swedes, with some calling for a law prohibiting begging and for beggars to be deported, and others urging authorities to support their humanitarian needs. Some municipalities are already providing food aid and shelter.
Erik Hansson, a researcher at Uppsala University studying how Swedes perceive beggars, said that in a country with the lowest proportion of poor people in the EU, some people see foreign beggars as “parasites” that Sweden should not have to deal with.
“People think that by paying tax, they have outsourced their personal responsibility for the poor to the state and should not have to see this. They say other nations, like Romania, are not taking their responsibility,” he told Al Jazeera.
In the last year, dozens of cases of harassment as well as physical attacks have been reported across the country.
Incidents include people beating up, throwing rocks or spitting at, threatening or stealing money from beggars.
There have been fires – widely believed to be arson – in encampments housing beggars in Stockholm and the southern city of Malmo.
Earlier this week, Swedish Radio revealed how a closed Facebook group, “No to beggars in Sweden”, with about 3,000 members, celebrate harassment and attacks on beggars. On other online forums, beggars’ encampments have been mapped with posts instigating attacks.
Hansson said centuries-old anti-Ziganism, or prejudice against the Roma, is playing a role in hostility against beggars.
“Some people say it’s in their culture to beg, rather than work,” he said.
“They get provoked by seeing beggars who managed to travel all the way to Sweden, meaning that they must have had some money. That, some people say, doesn’t give them the right to beg.”
The far-right Sweden Democrats, which became the third-largest party in the country’s September polls, has used fiery rhetoric against the beggars, accusing them of belonging to organised crime networks and committing crimes in Sweden. The party wants a nationwide ban on begging.
Sjobo, where the incident with the stolen tablet happened, is the municipality where the party got the highest support in the parliamentary poll – 30 percent of the votes.