Upper Austria bans ‘aggressive begging’

Certain forms of begging are now prohibited in six of Austria’s nine provinces after a law made by Upper Austrian decision-makers went into effect today (Tues).The provincial government agreed earlier this month to make so-called aggressive and professional begging illegal as of 1 February. People being caught begging face fines and prison sentences.The decision comes on the heels of similar rules passed in the provincial parliaments of Lower Austria, Vienna and Styria, while in Tyrol and Salzburg there is a blanket ban on begging in general.The Freedom Party (FPÖ) argues that such regulations would increase people’s “feeling of security” and lower the Austrian crime rate. The Greens and parish priest Wolfgang Pucher however went to court over the anti-begging laws. Pucher, who runs a charity supporting the poor and homeless in the Styrian city of Graz, said: “I wonder whether it is legal to keep poor people from showing their dismal situation and their need for support in public. A court should also find out whether the restriction breaches human rights.”The western province of Vorarlberg and the small eastern province of Burgenland have no plans to set up such rules, while Carinthian politicians have expressed the will to press on with an anti-begging law.The FPÖ and other right-wing movements claim that most beggars belong to well-organised crime organisations from Eastern Europe (EE). Non-government organisations have shown immense efforts in the recent years to stop children and adults being exploited by gang leaders after being lured to travel to Austria for work.Austria is one of the richest countries in the world, but NGOs and researchers have warned that around one million of the overall 8.5 million people living in the country are threatened by poverty. Another six per cent of Austrians are categorised as impoverished. Studies have also shown that the number of poor children is on the rise.