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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

New law targets beggars and organised gangs with stiff fines and jail time

Legislation follows arrest of suspects accused of using vulnerable disabled people to bring in cash

A man donates to a beggar during Eid Al Fitr outside a mosque in Dubai's Deira district. Jeff Topping / The National
A man donates to a beggar during Eid Al Fitr outside a mosque in Dubai's Deira district. Jeff Topping / The National

A new law will target organised gangs that use beggars, following the arrest of a group of men that exploited dozens of people with special needs to make money.

The Federal National Council on Tuesday set out tougher measures to punish individuals found to be running networks of beggars.

It will include a minimum jail term of six months and a fine of at least Dh100,000. The punishment could be higher if they are found to have also trafficked people to work for them.

Members also said beggars - particularly those in good health and purely working for profit - should be more heavily punished.

Individual beggars will spend up to three months in jail and pay at least a Dh5,000 fine.

Until now beggars have been jailed for one month then deported.

The FNC backed the measures ahead of Ramadan next month, when many exploit families' generosity to make money and after the case of one gang in Sharjah that used 35 beggars with special needs came to light this month.

Police have said those arrested are often foreigners on tourist visas that have come to the Emirates to take advantage of the Holy Month.

“Begging has become more widespread... and organised begging has also emerged,” said Ras Al Khaimah member Salem Al Shehhi, the leader of the FNC committee that studied the draft law and raised it with the Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior.

A beggar who proves to be in good shape and has an income will face the maximum possible punishment, and the same applies for someone who fakes an injury or disability, “or uses any other form of scam”, states the draft law.

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Read more:

Asian gang arrested on human trafficking charges used '35 people with special needs to beg'

UAE court to prosecute traffickers in landmark case

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During the same session, Sheikh Saif spoke of efforts to cut the number of both murders and fires.

Last year, the UAE recorded 19 fires for every 100,000 people, which he compared to Japan, which recorded 36 fires for the same number of people.

“We feel sorry when in some cases we are not able to save someone’s life, but we hope that we improve, as this is one of the most important matters to us,” said Sheikh Saif.

The UAE recorded 0.7 murders for every 100,000 people last year, in line with many of the safest European countries. The United States, for example, is almost 5 per 100,000 each year.

Sheikh Saif also said there were five road deaths for every 100,000 people last year, compared to 13.5 in 2008.

“And we hope the rate will drop down to three deaths for every 100,000 people by 2021.”

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES, 17 APRIL 2018 - Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Interior and Deputy Prime Minister during the Federal National Council session at their headquarter’s in Abu Dhabi. (Leslie Pableo for The National)
Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, takes questions at the FNC on Tuesday. Leslie Pableo for The National

The minister was also asked about what the government was doing to prevent criminals from moving between Gulf countries - given visa-free travel is the norm.

He said the new pan-Gulf police organisation, GCCPOL, which launched last year and is based in Abu Dhabi, plays a key role in catching criminals who try to cross borders. There are currently 14 crimes that the Gulf states exchange fingerprints and information for.

In other questions, Sheikh Saif was also asked about the policing of social media.

FNC member Saeed Al Remeithi, said there is not enough scrutiny of what is said online.

“This [virtual] space is used by all of us, adults and children, what has the government done to protect this space?” asked the Abu Dhabi member, who is a widely-followed social media influencer himself.

“Most crimes have become electronic and they are more dangerous than regular crimes, yet we have noticed the absence of monitoring over this electronic [medium], so what is the ministry doing with regards to that?”

Sheikh Saif said that despite the electronic threat and breaches that the UAE faces, “we are constantly on the lookout for electronic crimes, like any other crime".