x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Abu Dhabi churchgoers being harassed by beggars

Men who pretend to have infectious wounds approach mainly women asking for money. When a small amount is offered, the men often demand larger amounts.

ABU DHABI // Churchgoers are being harassed by beggars who show them injuries and demand as much as Dh300.

People in Al Mushrif, particularly women, complain the men approach them as they arrive and leave church on Fridays.

Many have given between Dh20 and Dh50 but the beggars say it is not enough and plead for as much as Dh300. Begging is illegal.

The churchgoers believe the men are from nearby labour camps. Many suspect their wounds are fake because the same people keep begging and have refused to be seen by doctors who attend the church.

“They come very close to the faces of our children and show their wounds,” said Kerstin Smith, an American expatriate who attends the Evangelical Community Church. “I don’t like them showing it to my children because there’s no reason why my children need to see it. They are just trying to get a reaction from me.

“Sometimes they refuse to accept a small sum of money and ask for larger amounts, close to Dh200 or Dh300. They ask, ‘how can I get treated with Dh20?’

“I’ve asked them to come to the church and meet the pastor, who will help them, but they never do.”

Ms Smith said the same men appeared every week with the same injuries, leading her to believe they were fake.

The Evangelical church has highlighted the beggars in its weekly bulletin, urging churchgoers not to give them money and direct them to the pastor.

“It is the same men who approach people when they are heading home after the service,” said Mark du Bord, the pastor. He has offered to help the men and invited them to see members who are doctors, but they always decline.

Wael Qahoush, a board member at the church, said: “They stand in the corner and watch particularly single ladies, then get closer to them.

“I have seen a woman open her purse and give some money and then the same person just comes again and again.”

“We put this in the bulletin and referred the matter to the pastors to help them and take them to doctors. But when the church asks them to come in, they run away.”

Philip Zakariya, from Kerala, said: “They say they are suffering from kidney ailments and show their hanging urine bags.”

Ong Siew Ting, from Malaysia,  said: “I gave a beggar Dh20 but he insisted that it was not sufficient to treat his wound and yelled for more money, between Dh200 and Dh300, but that’s ridiculous.”

The beggars mainly target European women, thinking they are easy to exploit, Ms Ong said, but “they abuse people’s sympathy”.

anwar@thenational.ae