Research shows 3 out of 4 beggars in Brussels of Romanian origin

Research by KU Leuven and Odisee Hogeschool shows that three out of four beggars in Brussels are of Romanian origin, mainly Roma people from Romania. During 2021 and 2022, the researchers surveyed 358 people begging in Brussels in two phases to arrive at their conclusion.

Of the 358 people studied, the average age was 44, 56 per cent were male, and one in 10 had a visible disability. For Romanians, the average time spent each day begging was eight hours with or without children. Romanian adults who beg with children are, on average, younger than those who do not have children with them. Results found more than four in 10 Romanian people who beg with children sleep on the street.

While the investigation was being carried out and analysed, the city of Brussels decided to adopt regulations whereby beggars accompanied by children under 16 can now be fined.

Bert De Bock from Diogenes, an organisation that works with homeless people, warns against a simplified view of beggars in Brussels. "We must not forget the other groups. The beggars also include Belgians and people with a non-European nationality."

The research shows significant differences between the diverse groups of beggars in the capital. "Romanian beggars, often from the Roma community, usually live in overcrowded housing and stay in the available night shelters less than the other groups. Culture can play a role in this," the researchers say. "People who beg with children are almost always of Romanian descent."

Informal safety net

The research also points out that Roma are more frequently dissatisfied with the Brussels police services. On average, Romanian beggars report better health than non-Romanians.

Koen Geurts, coordinator of the Roma and Travellers service of the non-profit Foyer, recognises the diversity within the population of Romanian beggars. “There is a group that has settled here for some time and survives through the 'kumpania', the village network that provides an informal safety net for Roma," he says.

The use of the word "begging" and how it is defined had a significant impact on the investigation results, De Bock adds. "In this study, begging has been defined as 'informal work in a public space, where the recipient asks for a gift for which he gives nothing in return'. But for street workers, this is only part of begging." Musicians, people who wash car windows at a traffic light and others can also be beggars. "It depends on how narrow or how broad you define begging."



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