People walking through Valletta or Sliema may have come across a Romanian man with an amputated arm begging in the streets, an unusual sight on the island given that begging is illegal.

He sat on a mat with an open shirt, exposing a large scar on the shoulder instead of his left arm

Family Minister Chris Said has referred the matter to the police, asking them to remove the man from the streets and direct him to the government’s support agency Appoġġ, where he can be given help, “should the case be genuine”.

The Times came across the man sitting on the pavement outside the Floriana MCP car park.

He sat on a mat with an open shirt, exposing a large scar on the shoulder instead of his left arm with a white cup beside him. Although he did not ask anyone for money, several passers-by stopped to drop a few coins in his cup as they headed into the capital.

The man cannot speak English or Maltese and the only words he uttered were “Romania” and “no speak”.

A Family Ministry spokesman said: “Such cases are extremely rare. I have enquired and was told that reports about such cases should be first made to the police.

“The situation seems to be one of begging, therefore, first and foremost it is a law enforcement issue.”

Under Maltese law, it is illegal to lead an idle and vagrant life.

The law also says that anyone who does not own property, has no other means of subsistence and “fails to show that he has habitually endeavoured to engage in or exercise some art, trade or other occupation”, is also breaking the law.

The ministry spokesman added: “The minister contacted the Commissioner of Police and has asked him to verify the situation. Should the case be genuine, the minister asked the commissioner to help the individual concerned by referring him to the relevant agencies.”

Over the years, the number of people in Malta at risk of poverty has increased. But poverty remains an “invisible” problem as people are not seen sleeping on benches or begging for money. The problems are visible indoors where people struggle to cope with basic needs.

National Statistics Office figures on income and living conditions for survey year 2010, published in January, revealed that almost 21 per cent of the population are at risk of poverty and social exclusion.

Children living with single parents and the elderly are most at risk.

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