Ramadan, time of giving is time for ‘taking’… for some in UAE

‘Beggars’ flying in for the season reportedly stay in five-star hotels

It appears Dh20,000 is short change for beggars duping residents across the UAE, with several arrests in the recent weeks unearthing hordes of stashed cash and a high-flying lifestyle of five-star hotel stays and easy living.

As local authorities cracks down on gangs of beggars weaving their way through the bleeding hearts and benevolent souls across the country, the holy month of Ramadan sheds light once again on the growing menace of easy money avenues, where once person’s charity becomes another’s opportunity.

In recent weeks, a 40-year-old Pakistani was arrested in Sharjah, having admitted to collecting Dh30,000 is cash from people during Ramadan.

Another was arrested in Dubai with Dh19,000 in booty, all by snapping up Dh10 each via a sob story of being unable to pay the fare to a take a bus to Sharjah to reach his work place.

While authorities are reining in similar culprits, even launching a helpline for residents to report in the menace, several are now wising up to the organised crime set-up that has turned into a million-dirham enterprise.

Organised set-up

In recent weeks, Colonel Mohammed Al Muhairy, director of the tourism security department at Dubai Police, stated that most of these beggars in Dubai during the holy month were professionals in disguise who flew in from their home countries cash in on people’s good will.

Bur Dubai resident, Shah Nawaz told Emirates 24|7: “I am so fed up of being hounded by these crooks during Ramadan, that when one of them approached me this time around for being penniless to return home to Oman, I cheekily offered to drive them to the border myself.

“The beggar fled; but I followed him in my car until I saw him climb into a Nissan Pathfinder and drive away!”

Shah Nawaz’s shocking revelation is just that, an outrageous peek into a cover up for organised begging that sees conniving entrepreneurs fly into the country during this month of giving to dupe people under the name of charity.

Media reports have published stories of these so-called beggars checking into some of Dubai’s five-star luxury properties during Ramadan, and taking to the streets to make a quick buck.

Karama resident Hafsa Siddique said: “What’s even more worrying now is the menace is coming knocking on our doors.”

She narrated an incident when a man came begging for cash on crutches to raise money for purchasing a prosthetic leg for himself in.

Not doubting his motives, Siddique gave him Dh25, only to spot the same person two days later sans crutches and shopping at Lulu supermarket.

“I don’t even bother anymore,” said the homemaker.

But news came knocking on her door because during the same week, a cousin in Deira narrated her of a gentleman who came to their door with same sob story.

The conmen were eventually caught, according to Siddique, with the family informed that they were a gang of five that had flown in especially during Ramadan to prey on people here.

Common cons

Last year, Dubai Police arrested 657 people for begging, 169 of them during Ramadan.

This year, 264 were arrested before the beginning of the holy month, of which 201 men and 63 women, with that number almost doubling since the start of Ramadan, with 103 people herded for begging, including 14 women.

Of the cons, Dubai Police confirmed the ‘money needed to get to work in Sharjah’ story being a common one, while the fake prosthetic leg to garner sympathy was also a tried and tested formula.

Meanwhile, a man arrested on suspicion of begging in Sharjah during this holy month told the authorities he knocked on doors in residential areas in the emirate, saying he had lost his job and his residence visa had expired.

When he was arrested, the police found Dh30,000 in his pocket.

“They come knocking on our door every Ramadan,” revealed Bur Dubai resident, Kajal Gandhi. “Every year it’s a new tale: money for an orphanage; lost their job and no cash to feed their family; donations needed for a lifesaving surgery with ‘official’ documentation.

“Every single one of these are sob stories with the sole purpose to con people.

“If you calculate, 50 homes in a day or two apartment blocks alone would garner at least Dh1,500 or more.”

Meanwhile, even young children are in on the con, often used as bait to garner sympathy.

Deira and Bur Dubai areas often see women sitting in the sweltering heat with a small child dehydrating in their arms.

“The sight alone has seen me fork over Dh100 on a few occasions,” said one Emirati, requesting not to be named.

The hijab is often misused during these begging cons, with last week alone seeing Dubai Police arrest a teenage boy in hijab doing the same.

The 15-year-old boy told investigating officers that he was tempted to beg because of the activities of the group he belonged to.

What can you do?

Sixty police patrols, including undercover officers, are involved in this year’s sting operation, with teams from Dubai Municipality and the Dubai Naturalisation and Residency Department also stepping up.

Authorities have divided the emirate into three zones – green, yellow and red –according to how often each is visited by beggars, which will include residential areas, Ramadan markets, mosques, petrol stations and other such ‘regular’ haunts.

Police have urged the public not to give money to beggars, but rather approach charity organisations that will forward their donations to people who are really in need.

For the first time, the campaign involves cash prizes to those who report beggars in the emirate.

“The prize will be determined according to the degree of cooperation and the significance of the report,” said the director of the tourism security division, Colonel Mohammed Al Muhairi, who heads the campaign.

“The aim of this reward is to encourage the public to cooperate with the police and protect their emirate from this bad phenomenon.”

Residents are urged to report beggars on 800 243.

Meanwhile, Sharjah Police has also urged the public to call on 06 563 2222 to complain about any beggars in their community.

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