Forced to beg on the streets of Barcelona

by Lorraine Williamson
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BARCELONA – According to the official Mossos (Catalan Police) website, two top members of a criminal gang who trafficked people and forced them to beg on the streets have been arrested.

Those arrested, allegedly brought their victims from their country of origin, and moved them to Barcelona.

Their modus operandi was, to target vulnerable people with severe economic needs. However, they particularly searched for people with physical disabilities. This was for two reasons! The people with disabilities were more likely to be successful in begging, but also, they were more vulnerable in their own country as the disability would make it very difficult to find work.

Coerced and threatened to beg on the streets

Therefore, once these victims were identified, they were coerced and threatened to travel to Catalonia. Moreover, often with promises that were not fulfilled.

However, when they arrived in Barcelona, the people were made to live in subhuman conditions. Each day, they were transported by bus, or in the boot of a car, and taken to the area where they were forced to ask for money until they were picked up again at the end of the day.  Sometimes this would be in the city at the red traffic lights when they would have to ask drivers for money. Seemingly they averaged around €100 per day each by doing this.

Appalling living conditions

The victims lived in desperate conditions. The leaders (a man and a woman) provided them with very little food and drink. Furthermore, they physically searched them every day to ensure they had handed over all the money they had begged for.

They were made to live in an open field, with only a mattress to sleep on, regardless of the weather. Seemingly, the leaders also slept in the same place, but they had the luxury of a tent.

Furthermore, the gang kept strict control over their victims. They watched them at the traffic lights and while they slept so that they could not escape. Also, the people who were exploited only spoke their own language. This, therefore, made them dependent on the gang, and even more vulnerable as they were unable to ask for help.

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Suspicions

Barcelona police began their investigation in November of last year. It was at this time, two men were detected begging each day in the Sants-Montjuïc district of Barcelona. The police were suspicious and, therefore, carried out various investigations to confirm whether other people were controlling them and forcing them to beg on the streets.

Arrest

The investigations were ongoing, until the successful police operation took place on June 7. This led Officers from the Generalitat-Mossos d’Esquadra Police of the Criminal Investigation Division of the Barcelona Metropolitan Police Region, together with the Barcelona City Guard Investigation Unit, to arrest a man and a woman as the alleged perpetrators of crimes of trafficking in human beings to exploit the victims and force them to practice begging.

Medical treatment

This then allowed the human trafficking groups of the Mossos d’Esquadra and the Investigation Unit of the Guàrdia Urbana to release two victims. When police intervened, the priority for them was to get medical treatment for the victims.

Immediately, they were transferred to the Barcelona Centre for Emergencies and Social Emergencies (CUESB), where they were provided with first aid. Subsequently, they are under the specialised care that is activated in cases of human trafficking.

Court

The two detainees were the leaders of a family clan of about ten people. However, criminal activity in people trafficking and exploitation has not been proven for the other 8 members of the family. Although they do have a history of burglary.

The Provincial Court of Barcelona has issued a conviction for the two arrested, with sentences of 10 and 16 years in prison.

Also read: Human trafficking organisation dismantled

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