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Zurich wants power to remove beggars

Zurich wants to clear the streets of beggars

(Keystone)

The authorities in Zurich are hoping that a proposed new cantonal police law will dissuade vagrants from coming to the city from as far away as Germany.

Officials say that beggars are attracted to Zurich by the generosity of the public and because they know police powers to move them on are more limited than in other Swiss cities.

Laws allowing police to banish undesirables from certain places are in force in other cities, such as Bern and St Gallen.

At present each police authority in canton Zurich sets its own powers. But now the Zurich cantonal authorities are drawing up regulations to govern policing canton-wide that could include the power to move beggars off the streets.

The draft law – if approved - is unlikely to come into force before 2007. But Gerhard Lips, police chief of Zurich city’s eastern district, told swissinfo that such legislation would be welcome.

"We have done a lot of work in the last five years in an attempt to solve this problem, but there are still some beggars, drug addicts and alcoholics hanging around public places who are causing disturbances," he said.

Taking up time

"Some of these people come from outside Zurich, even from Germany, and we want to discourage them from coming here. It is not a big problem, but one that is taking up too much police time.

"At the moment we can only hand out fines to beggars, and in any case they stop what they are doing when they see uniformed police officers around."

According to Lips, the power "to move these people on would only be one part of our strategy".

"[But] it would be the final piece of the mosaic to enable us to solve the problem."

"It is easier to make money in Zurich than in [the city of] Winterthur because the police aren't so much of a problem - that's why I came here last year," 27-year-old Markus (assumed name) told swissinfo outside Zurich’s main railway station.

"It's been harder to make money recently because people are being told to buy street papers, but maybe they will forget in a few weeks and start giving us money again."

Gerhard Lips says there is a hardcore group of around 20 beggars who are joined by others who drift in from other areas for short periods of time.

Street paper

The city’s Safety, Intervention and Prevention (SIP) unit has been trying to educate the public to give money to street-paper sellers rather than beggars.

SIP members regularly patrol the Stadelhofen and main railway station areas, handing out leaflets that encourage people to "invest change in something meaningful".

"We [also] invest time in communicating with beggars and advise them to... change their behaviour," said SIP spokesman Lukas Hohler.

"At the moment a beggar can earn up to SFr300 ($234) a day, which is more than a street-magazine seller. If more people buy street magazines and give less money to beggars then it will encourage [people living on the street] to... sell the product themselves."

"I can make more money just by asking," confirmed Markus, "but if I can make more money as a paper seller in future then maybe I'll give it a go."

SIP was formed five years ago to help solve the conflict between people living on the street and local businesses who complained that they were losing customers because beggars and vagrants were gathering outside their shops.

The business community helps fund SIP’s work and all sides, including street people and the police, meet regularly to discuss their problems, a process that started two years ago with an open forum.

"It is important for everyone to spend time together," said Hohler. "We have made significant progress in the last few years in resolving conflicts."

swissinfo, Matthew Allen in Zurich

Key facts

Beggars are attracted to Zurich from as far away as Germany and can earn up to SFr300 a day.
The city’s Safety, Intervention and Prevention unit is running a campaign entitled "Invest your change in something meaningful", which calls on the public to buy street papers rather than give change to beggars.
Beggars in Zurich congregate mainly around the Stadelhofen and main railway stations of the city.

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