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Beggars and illegal traders

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Hertford, United...
posts: 570
reviews: 112
Beggars and illegal traders

Just back from Florence and horrified to see how beggars and illegal traders (mainly the bag sellers) have multiplied since we were there at the same time two years ago. Most do not seem to be Italian native speakers.

PLEASE visitors, don't support them. The legal traders have stalls with permits. Those selling guide books and handbags around the Duomo area are illegals. We saw the police doing circuits and watched them whisking away their wares as soon as their look-outs spotted them. As for the beggars, ignore them.

I'd be interested to know from any locals what is being done, particularly about the beggars who can be very persistent.

posts: 242
reviews: 51
1. Re: Beggars and illegal traders

same issue in Milan however the police ignored it and these pushers were quite assertive in how approach people, especially if they have and are attempting sell those wrist bands. very off putting

Montepulciano, Italy
posts: 3,816
reviews: 2
2. Re: Beggars and illegal traders

Mayor Renzi has done a great deal to improve the situation in recent years and you certainly see far fewer illegal hawkers now than you did 3 or 4 years ago when they used to literally line the lungarno between the Ponte Vecchio and the Uffizi as well as several side streets. In addition to the introduction of additional mobile Carabinieri units, there has also been a huge publicity campaign aimed at discouraging people from buying the fake junk they sell. But the hawkers and the beggars are still a nuisance, I agree. Both groups are obviously highly organised, presumably recruited by third parties. I'd imagine many, if not all, don't have papers. In fact, Bill Clinton visiting the city last month was photographed with some African hawkers whom the local newspaper later identified as being illegals!

posts: 1,144
reviews: 36
3. Re: Beggars and illegal traders

I've seen waves of them come and go during the past umpty-ump years. Sometimes they seem more numerous in Florence, other times in Rome, and then somewhere else.

While they certainly do not add anything like an elegant note, I have never found them at all threatening.

Montepulciano, Italy
posts: 3,816
reviews: 2
4. Re: Beggars and illegal traders

I thought to myself when in the capital last week that Rome suffers far more than we do in Florence but, again, I think we have Renzi to thank for that. I once witnessed an incident between a beggar and an American couple on the lungarno by the Lungarno Suites that nearly turned nasty so now give these women a very wide berth.

Edited: 11:03 am, November 10, 2012
Florence, Italy
posts: 31
5. Re: Beggars and illegal traders

It's a complex matter, long to explain. I'll try with my simple English.

Most beggars arrive from Romania, and they are Roma; since Romania joined European Union some years ago, they are allowed to stay in EU as every other EU citizen, and that's perfectly legal. No need of visa. World crisis hits hard, very hard in Romania too, especially since two years ago Romanian economy has collapsed, that's why they are moving in other European countries more than ever. I personally think that the Roma have increased a lot here in Florence compared to two years ago; consider, too, that while two years ago it was more easy to find small jobs, now it's not so easy, at least, in Florence.

African countries are also having a hard time. Some of their inhabitants move away from Africa, sometimes if they can get, with a visa, sometimes illegally. Many young Africans, just arrived in Italy, partly because of the economic crisis, they start an activity of illegal street traders, because there are no other jobs.

Same considerations for them, as well as for Roma. My impression is that illegal traders, they are more than two years ago, here in Florence. If they moved away from Ponte Vecchio, now they are every day in front of Accademia Gallery, for instance, and in many other place, everywhere, not only in the center. Such as the Roma, vendors move across the city, from the center to the far suburbs.

So it's perfectly normal for a Florentine, in a street in the suburbs, being approached by a nice african boy with a friendly phrase (Come stai, amico? How are you, man?)... just because he tries to sell something he carries, in the historic center often bags and prints, in the other areas paper tissues or lighters.

Or, at a traffic light, it's normal to find a Roma, begging.

So it's not just a problem for tourists, but also for all Florence inhabitants.

The best thing for them, beggars and illegal vendors, and for Florence inhabitants and tourists too, it would be that all these people had a legal work. Is it possible now? No.

In recent years, part of the labor force from illegal immigration was absorbed in legal jobs, as in restaurants, and it has been regularised. But now things here are too bad, there is less work than a few years ago, and a lot more immigration.

To resolve the issue, the Florentine police should use force. A lot of force, probably. And brutally. Sometimes it happens, but they can't cause a war against Roma and Africans. By the way, Florence, it's antiracist and deeply humanist. Tolerance has historically been one of its distinctive characteristics. So a violent war against immigrants, it horrifies us. Even if these immigrants are "very persistent", and really annoying, sometimes.

Given then the general situation, the City of Florence tries to contain the phenomenon. The police acts, but without the hard way, usually. They search the deposits of abusive merchandise and they seize it.

Anyway, the Roma just beg usually; it's better to pay attention to them when you meet, but it's rare that the same Roma beggars, they try also pickpocketing, they just beg. At least in Florence, apparently it seems they do nothing but begging. Same of African street vendors, they don't pickpocket. They can be annoying at times, but it's better than to have all these people around the city trying to steal or to pickpocket.

posts: 5,808
reviews: 51
6. Re: Beggars and illegal traders

That is a fantastic post, Alberto, although you did freak me out when you wrote 'The Florentine police should use force', until I realised that you meant 'could/would have to' !

In my experience, the illegal street vendors in Italy don't harass people, unlike in, say, Paris and beggars are just that, however uncomfortable they make us feel. I am more uneasy with people wanting you to sign their 'anti-drugs' petitions.

posts: 2,434
reviews: 6
7. Re: Beggars and illegal traders

Thank you, Alberto - there but for the grace.....etc.

Like Pericoloso, I find the people with their petitions make me feel more uncomfortable.

Montepulciano, Italy
posts: 3,816
reviews: 2
8. Re: Beggars and illegal traders

Bravo Alberto! So interesting. But the Romany beggars are organised, wouldn't you agree? And they're spreading their net and now appearing in smaller towns too such as Buonconvento and Chiusi. And what gets me is that we have a lot of rural poverty in southern Tuscany within the local Italian community to the point that some families live in cold, dark houses all winter - yet people don't beg on the streets.

posts: 1,144
reviews: 36
9. Re: Beggars and illegal traders


Thanks for a thoroughly balanced and humane discussion of how a worldwide problem is affecting Florence.

I would presume to add just a tad to your very complete post.

At least some of this really isn't all that new. About 30 years ago, my wife was walking across the Piazza della Stazione when a group of little girls approached her, with one of them smiling and holding up a bouquet of flowers. My wife stopped for a minute to admire the flowers, and only at the last second did she realize that one of the girls had her hand in my wife's purse. They were Romany, or "gypsies", and my wife has steered clear of them ever since.

And there have been lots of African immigrants - I think many of them Somalis - selling all kinds of goods, including counterfeit Louis Vuitton purses, etc., in the streets of Florence for about as long as I can remember.

One of the great ironies of the past 100 years has been the transformation of Italy from a land of emigrants into a land of immigrants. One of my favorite recent films explores this, Gianni Amelio's "L'America". It is not all a bad thing.

Castellina in...
posts: 2,927
reviews: 8
10. Re: Beggars and illegal traders

The current crop of gypsies are coming from Romania but gypsies have been around in Florence for at least 40 years and if you listen to them talking to one another, you'll find they speak Serbo-Croatian and Yugoslavia is where they came from - that still applies to the majority. Times are tough now, but after 40 years most immigrant groups integrate and get work of some kind. They beg if they can't steal. My advice is to stay well clear of them.