Begging at traffic lights in Palma. | Alejandro Sepúlveda

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A Romanian gang is behind the presence of well over fifty beggars in Palma. Also Romanian and of Romani ethnicity, the beggars generally suffer from some form of disability and operate on the streets, at traffic lights and outside supermarkets. This "mafia" is said to control around 95% of beggars in the city; only two or three of them are Spanish.

The National Police and local police are being hampered in their control over the gang and the beggars by secrecy and a "law of silence" among the gypsies. The police say that the centres of the organisation are Burgos and Valladolid on the mainland. Once the destitute people arrive in Spain, they are sent to different cities, according to the potential of the cities.

This is said to be a well-organised and well-structured operation, with absolute control being exerted over the "workers". The police have at times counted more than a hundred beggars who work supermarket entrances and the traffic lights along the front line, in the centre and at other points where there is a high density of traffic. The vast majority are from the same family or clan and live in overcrowded conditions in Son Gotleu.

The police are unable to quantify exactly how much the beggars take each day, but the estimate is between 75 and 100 euros. They work every day and there are no limits on hours. They typically carry a sign with various spelling mistakes and a photo of a minor in order to elicit sympathy; the same goes for their disabilities. Women are normally to be found outside supermarkets and the men are at the traffic lights.

Confronted by the silence, the police are finding it difficult to establish offences of human trafficking, sentences for which can be up to fifteen years.