Beggars, Inc.: Romanians Duped into Panhandling in Germany – Part 1

Published on Spiegel Online International, by Katrin Kuntz, March 28, 2014 (Photo Gallery).

A Romanian family in Hamburg has made a business out of luring compatriots to Germany and promising them jobs and better lives. Instead, they are coerced under highly dubious circumstances into becoming beggars for the “employer”.   

The new recruit learned how to be a good beggar on his first day in Germany, on an abandoned lot on the far side of the tracks at Hamburg’s central train station. At the beginning of his lesson, he was told to put on two old sweaters and was given a blue crutch so that he could practice walking with it. He would through his left leg further forward than his right, causing his hips to buckle as he stumbled across the grass.

After about 10 meters (40 feet), he came to a stop, bent his upper body forward and said three German words, drawing out the first vowel sound: bitte (please), danke (thank you) and Entschuldigung (excuse me). Then he haltingly told a story in which he described himself as the father of a son who is waiting for an operation in a Romanian ophanage. The child in this story has brittle bone disease, and his limbs are twisted and fragile. The man practiced for half an hour while his boss, as he says, stood next to him and watched … //

… Turning Poverty into a Profession:

The boss, Sandu Trandafir, whose name has also been changed to protect his identity, is a man with whom he once harvested potatoes in Titesti, in the southern Carpathians. Trandafir’s company essentially consists of a group of 10 men and women from the same village, most of them related to one another, along with a variable number of others. Trandafir has developed a business model that now shapes their lives: He has turned poverty into a profession.

Trandafir, a short, erect man with a thick beard, is standing at the eastern entrance to Hamburg’s central station on a winter morning, drinking black coffee from a paper cup. He’s waiting for the bus that brings his workers to the station at about 9 a.m.

His ancestors were Roma who worked as spoon carvers, a profession that has died out. In fact, members of the Roma minority have few job prospects of any kind. The monthly child allowance in Romania is the equivalent of €9 ($12) per child, while the welfare subsidy amounts to about €25 a month, compared to average earnings of around €546. To qualify for the subsidy, a Romanian must prove that he or she has unsuccessfully looked for work, or has spent 72 hours a month collecting garbage or shoveling snow for the local community. The latter rule is designed to ensure that the individual is not living and working abroad. Trandafir’s hands feel coarse and dry, as if he had often shoveled snow in his lifetime.

Trandafir says that when he gets up every morning, he thanks God he is living here in Hamburg, this wonderful, clean place where he can apply his entrepreneurial skills, and where he is allowed to do as he pleases and is even supported in the process. In his 30 years on this earth, he says, no one ever felt that he, as a member of the Roma, was capable of doing anything, especially in his native Romania.

When he arrived in Hamburg four years ago, says Trandafir, he spent a long time looking for work. He stood around at or near the train station every day, he says, staring into space, and at some point he sat down on the ground. One morning, when someone tossed a coin into a cup that was standing in front of him, he thought about becoming a beggar. He learned a few tricks by observing other beggars, and he was doing well before long. Eventually he hit upon the idea of starting his own business.

He brought his brother to Hamburg three years ago and told him about his business idea. He knew it wouldn’t be easy. Employees would enjoy none of the usual perks, no paid vacation, no sick leave, no employee cafeteria and no health insurance. But there would be competition. For Trandafir, the challenge was to figure out how to be more successful than others.

At first glance, his business doesn’t appear to be breaking any laws; independent begging, though prohibited in Romania, is legal in Germany. But organized, commercial begging is not permitted in Germany, and if beggars are forced into service to earn money, it can be considered human trafficking. The perpetrators are usually deported and are sometimes put on trial in their native countries, although such prosecutions are rare. Under Romanian law, the offence can be punished with prison terms of between three and 12 years.

Unwanted New Arrivals: … //

… (full text).

Part 2: Earning 800 to 900 Euros a Day.

(See also the Page ROMA, related articles, background features and opinions about this topic: Seldom Welcome – Despite a 600-year history in Europe, the Roma and Sinti have had a difficult time finding acceptance. Many have limited residency rights and live in precarious circumstances. Currently, France has led a widespread expulsion campaign against the group).

Links:

Against democratic principles: EU’s Ashton denounces nationalists’ pressure on Ukraine parliament, on Russia Today RT, March 29, 2014;

Poverty Migration: Berlin Backs UK’s ‘Benefit Tourism’ Offensive, on Spiegel Online International, by Carsten Volkery and Severin Weiland, November 29, 2013: Germany has now stepped into the UK-triggered fray over introducing new restrictions on migration within the EU. The European Commission is enraged, and even conservative EU parliamentarians warn of pandering to populists …;

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