In the last three years almost 100 people have been arrested for running human trafficking rings that used children, elderly people and individuals with disabilities to beg on the streets.
Most of the detainees are Romanian nationals, as are their victims, who are brought to Spain by the rings.
In nearly all of the cases the victims were promised well-paid jobs in Spain, but once here they were made to beg on the streets in exchange for a sandwich and a bed inside a shelter. Each beggar makes an average of €80 to €100 a day.
The latest police operation against the gangs took place in the Valencia region, where four people were arrested for forcing physically and mentally disabled people to beg on the streets of Alicante, Benidorm and other coastal towns for 12 to 14 hours a day. The victims were threatened with beatings if they failed to meet money collection targets.
“They convince entire families they will have well-paid jobs in Spain”
The alleged exploiters came round twice a day to collect the cash, while the beggars got nothing and lived off the charity of nearby bars and restaurants. At night, they were taken by members of the ring to a home in the Juan XXIII neighborhood in Alicante, where police found €10,000 in cash.
“They convince entire families that they will have well-paid jobs in Spain, working in the fields,” explains José Nieto, chief inspector of the Central Unit Aganst Immigration Rings (UCRIF). “They charge each one of them €300 to €500 for the paperwork. Then they put them on a bus to Barcelona, Madrid or the Mediterranean coast.”
“Each beggar has to make between €80 and €100. If they don’t, their controllers are willing to accept payment in kind (cellphones, handbags, wallets, sunglasses and laptops) that they often steal from bars and street cafés. The earnings always end up in Romania.”
National Police arrested 36 people for exploiting beggars in 2012, 10 in 2013 and 40 in the first three months of 2014. But applying the penal code to them has proved difficult: they cannot be accused of labor exploitation as there is no contract, nor of fraud, as they were not the ones who lured them to Spain with false promises of good jobs.