ABU DHABI // Police are planning a crackdown on beggars during Ramadan as residents have reported a rise in cases. Officers expect the number of incidents in Abu Dhabi to increase during the holy month, in line with previous years, as beggars seek to take advantage of the general air of goodwill.
However, residents say they have already noticed a marked increase in beggars, especially women, in residential areas, cafes and shops. Police would not say how many people had been arrested for begging in recent months, but they believe many visit the UAE specifically during Ramadan to beg. They have found that cases of begging during Ramadan make up 58 per cent of annual begging arrests. More than 98 per cent of those arrested are expatriates.
Some residents say an increase in begging may be linked to the economic downturn. An Emirati car salesman, who only identified himself as Mr al Housani, said he used to see beggars once in a while but was seeing more now, many of whom were women. He said whereas beggars used to operate only outside mosques or on the streets, now they were knocking on doors and entering shops to ask for money. "At least three beggars come to our showroom every week," said Mr al Housani. "They mostly claim they suddenly went short of money and need some money urgently to either go home or fix their cars."
He said he had noticed female beggars, "especially from Jordan, Syria and Palestine, they come to our showroom. "As for male beggars, I see them in malls and in streets. They usually dress nicely and would pretend their car has broken down. Some of them dress like Emiratis and say they live in Baniyas or al Gharbia. "Once an Arab man came up to me in the street and started telling me his life story. He spoke for a while and then I gave him Dh10. He did not like that. He came back and insisted on more and only left me when he saw another Emirati.
"They are still seen more often in residential areas where Emiratis live, such as Al Najda." Mr al Housani said some of the beggars used stamped documents claiming that the holder had urgent needs and should be helped. "I don't know where they get these papers from but they carry official stamps. I am not sure if they are real or not," he said. Police have previously called on authorities, especially the General Authority of Islamic Affairs & Endowments, not to issue such documents.
Anas Kassabji, 28, from Syria, has been in Abu Dhabi for four years and lives in the Tourist Club area. He said it was only recently that beggars had started calling on homes. "Of course, there are not as many as in other countries, incomparable in terms of numbers. Most of the beggars I see here are women not men. "In other countries, you know them because they dress like beggars. Here, they use different and new forms of begging. When they ask, they make it sound like you have to give them because they look respectable.
"If you do not give to them, you would be left with a feeling of guilt. It will be worse in Ramadan when I expect even more of them." Rezk Ahmed, a 25-year-old Palestinian who grew up in Abu Dhabi, said beggars were increasing "terribly, especially female beggars". "There is a large number in the cafe area in al Khalidiya," he said. "The same person would come to a specific place at least every other day. One has been a frequenter to the cafe I go to for four years, the same one.
"Many of them begin with praying for you and then ask for money. Some would try to sell you little things and charge you triple the shop price. They sell things like stickers that teach sign language, or wall holders of the Quran. The latter case is rare, maybe 10 per cent of them, the rest just ask for money." Although most of the female beggars he saw were Palestinians, recently there had been more Iraqis. Mr Ahmed said: "It is rare to find people who use their disabilities for begging but I saw some. A Pakistani man came the other day with a colostomy bag on his body and told us he needed money for the hospital."
Police consider any selling of "trivial" goods that cannot be a source of income as begging, as is faking injury or using any form of deception to "gain the public empathy". Visitors to the UAE who beg and those who have breached immigration laws are deported and not allowed to return. Beggars who have not breached immigration laws are referred to public prosecution and have to sign a statement saying they will not repeat the offence.
The penalties for begging can include two months in jail or a Dh500 (US$136) fine. The most recent police figures on begging can be found in a 2004 study conducted by the police research centre. It found that 454 beggars were arrested between 1998 and 2002, of whom 75 per cent were men. Police made 106 arrests in residential areas, 80 outside mosques and 54 in shops. Most male beggars were from Pakistan, Iran and Yemen and the majority of women were from Jordan, Iran and Syria.