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'Smart beggars' exploit UAE's Year of Giving

afkarali@khaleejtimes.com Filed on April 2, 2017 | Last updated on April 2, 2017 at 06.11 am
Smart beggars exploit UAEs Year of Giving

(KT file photo)

Beggars from various Arab and Asian countries have arrived in the UAE on visit visa, hoping that they could make some easy money.

The President, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan's announcement of 2017 as the Year of Giving has sent messages of hope and happiness to many needy people around the world. Government and private organisations in the UAE have already launched a number of initiatives to help the less fortunate in the UAE and other parts of the world.

However, Khaleej Times has found that there are a few people who are 'making use' of the Year of Giving for their personal benefits. They are organised gangs who bring in beggars to exploit the philanthropic initiative and generosity of the country.

Beggars from various Arab and Asian countries have arrived in the UAE on visit visa, hoping that they could make some easy money. Most of them are from the war-torn countries, such as Libya, Syria and Iraq, as well as from Palestine and Pakistan.

And they have a big difference from the conventional beggars we occasionally see on the subways or the bus stops. Most of them are smart and well-dressed and some even have their families with them. They approach the people on streets, parking lots and even at residential areas with some heart-touching stories. And they won't be satisfied with the Dh5 of Dh10 contribution you give.

One of the beggars, to whom this reporter managed to talk, said he hoped that every rich person would give him money as this is the Year of Giving. He said he was brought to the UAE by people who told him that the UAE residents are willing to make generous donations to the poor during the Year of Giving. And, as there are no poverty in the country, they are welcoming people from other countries. Most of them even don't know that begging is illegal in the UAE.

A number of residents in Sharjah confirmed to Khaleej Times that they had been approached by beggars in the parking lots of their buildings, shopping malls and parks.

Batool Al Harmoodi, a government employee in Sharjah, said that every day she is approached by these 'gentlemen beggars', who wait near her car. "They come with different stories and seek help to solve their problem. The strange thing is that unlike other beggars, they won't be satisfied with Dh10 or even Dh100. They ask for Dh1,000 or more."

Nawal Al Naqbi, another Emirati, reiterated Al Harmoodi's words. "They convince people with their stories and earn their sympathies. I used to give money to such people in the beginning. Later I realised that this has become a phenomenon and ignored their stories."

Police say organised gangs behind the trend

A senior official with the Sharjah Police told Khaleej Times that the police have arrested a number of such beggars recently. During interrogation they admitted that they were brought to the UAE by some gangs.

"The gangs provide them visas, air ticket and even give them accommodation. But those who are 'in the field' will have to give whatever they earn to the gang. The beggars will get a mere 10 per cent of their earnings," the officer said.

The police have started intensified inspection campaigns after receiving complaints about beggars pestering residents with their sad stories. "With the UAE experiencing a cooler weather this year, the number of beggars are high as they can easily walk around and find their preys. And we are getting close to the holy month of Ramadan, which sees a number of beggars all around, the police are keeping a close watch," said the officer.

According to the police investigation, most of the beggars are brought in to the UAE by Arab and Asian gangs.

"The gangs exploit the philanthropic attitude and generosity of the people of the UAE to make easy money by using poor people of some Asian and Arab countries. The police had arrested a number of gangs who run the begging business. Still we are working hard to nab the ones who are still practising it.

"We have increased the service of Sanad patrols in various parts of the emirate to arrest the beggars, but the major challenge is the difficulty to recognise the beggars. Unlike earlier, it's now very difficult to identify them as they also appear well-dressed and smart."

The official urged people not to sympathise with the beggars' stories or give money to them. He called on the public to cooperate with the police by reporting any begging activities by dialing 901.

"Those who are in real need of help can approach registered charity organisations," he added.

They pick people 'who look rich'

The Syrian man in his 40s was seen loitering in the parking lot of a Sharjah mall, along with his eight-year-old boy.

He approached random shoppers - of course, those who looked 'rich' - to tell his story. He said he was staying in a Sharjah flat with his six-member family and lost his job recently. "Now, the landlord is threatening me to throw us out of the flat if I don't pay the rent today itself. I don't have any money. My family will have to sleep on the street."

When asked about the place he started mumbling. The boy also looked clueless. Finally, he admitted that he was dropped by a friend to the mall and arrived UAE with his family after fleeing the war-torn country.

Some ask money to buy air tickets

Batool Al Harmoodi elaborated two occasions when she was approached by these new age beggars.

"First was a Pakistani man. He told me the most common story. He said he came to the UAE on a visit visa, looking for a job. Somehow, he lost all his money and now wanted to go back to his home country. He wanted money to purchase an air ticket, which I refused to give."

Then it was an old Egyptian woman. She had a very dignified look and was neatly dressed. The woman approached Al Harmoodi and told her that she was brought into Abu Dhabi by her nephew, whom she had raised back in their home country. But after she arrived here, the nephew's wife didn't accept her and asked her to go to Sharjah and ask people for money to go back home as people in Sharjah are very generous. "She told me that she took a sharing car with the small amount she had. I didn't believe the story, but gave her Dh10. She asked me for some big amount that could help her buy the ticket."

'I am educated, not a beggar'

Abdul Aziz Ajeeb looks just like a smart white-collar employee. Dressed up as smart as an executive and carrying a smartphone, he approached me at a parking lot in Sharjah. The 48-year-old Libyan man said he arrived in Sharjah on February 27 on a visit visa. The visa and air ticket was donated by a generous Emirati, who told him he can find a job in the UAE.

"I came here to find a job as an accountant and support my family back in Libya. But now, I ran out of money and don't have shelter or food. I need only Dh1,000 to pay for the food and accommodation until I find a job," he said.

Then he changed his voice. "I'm not a beggar. I am well-educated and belong to a big family in Libya. But my circumstances forced me to do this. I approached you because I felt you are a generous person, who I'm sure will help."

Despite the fabricated story, I gave him Dh20 for a shawarma and told him that he will get more if he said the truth. After much pressure, he divulged the truth. Ajeeb said he lived in a small village in Libya and was contacted by a Syrian man who convinced him to come to the UAE to make some easy money in three months. "He told me that I can then go back to start my own business instead of working on a low-paid government office job.

"He sent me the news about the Year of Giving and convinced me that all people in the UAE are wealthy and are ready to donate to the less fortune people from other countries. But he didn't tell me that I would go begging, telling fabricated stories to people."

I explained to him about the UAE law and advised him to return home before he got caught by the police.

- afkarali@khaleejtimes.com

Afkar Abdullah


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