Beggars come knocking

UAE police continue to crackdown on beggars taking advantage of residents and tourist throughout the country

UAE police continue to crackdown on beggars taking advantage of residents and tourist throughout the country

A woman dressed in black, her face covered revealing only her eyes, stands at the front door holding a small document. As she extends her arm and opens her hand, she begins asking for money to support her family. Tarek and I look at one another, we are in shock. We have heard about street beggars but never door-to-door.
The last time I encountered a beggar was when I was in a cab trying to cross into the United States from Tijuana, Mexico. It was a frightening experience as they circled the taxi, young children banging on our window. But this was different. It was happening at my front door.
I was thankful Tarek was home that day. He turned her away politely and gave her the name of nearby charities where she could get support. As he closed the door, the doorbell rang again. We didn’t answer it but she persisted until Tarek threatened to call the police.
Begging is now outlawed in the United Arab Emirates but in 2008 it was a growing problem in Abu Dhabi. Our doorbell would ring often – mostly during the day when Tarek was at work – but I never answered. I would look through the peephole, and if I saw a woman in black, I wouldn’t open. It’s sad – there were many friendly women who wore the burqa that lived in my building, but I never risked opening the door just in case the woman on my doorstep was a beggar.
Despite the many police campaigns in the major cities in the Emirates, begging remains a multi-million dollar industry. Often, during the holy month of Ramadan, professional beggars from India and Pakistan pay agency fees to come to the country to take advantage of residents’ generosity.
Local media reports say that during a police campaign in 2012, nearly 650 beggars were arrested in Dubai, one third of them during Ramadan. Among them was a man who asked passersby to contribute Dh10 for his bus fare. By the time he was arrested he had made Dh19,000. His counterpart in Sharjah did even better, collecting Dh30,000 in a matter of days.
A beggar was caught faking a disability with a prosthetic leg and another was arrested feigning illness using an IV bag taped to his abdomen. When police checked the bag’s contents it turned out to be an ordinary yellow liquid and not the result of some terrible disease. Yet there were many who got away. In 2011 a vengeful beggar super-glued an Indian woman’s car doors after she turned him away.
Recently, during a morning walk, a man with what appeared to be a bandage on his arm approached me, revealing an infected wound. He produced a doctor’s prescription for an antibiotic. “Pharmacist. I need money,” he said, revealing a hideous open wound the length of his forearm. I didn’t know whether to believe him or not, but being a generous person, I gave him whatever change I had in my pocket. I continued on my way but I remained wary for the rest of my walk. I could see him avoid certain people, mostly men, and then approach those who appeared to be softer targets. His next victims were an elderly couple.
I knew I had been scammed. He would disappear for a few minutes, plot his approach and seek out his next victim. He would just pounce. I alerted the local security team – simply telling them that a man needed urgent medical assistance. He had shown me a wound on his arm and needed help. I never told them he took money from me – I didn’t know his full story. I felt like I had been scammed but it could’ve been a genuine cry for help and telling the security men that I thought he was a con artist could have caused him harm that he didn’t deserve.
Back in Abu Dhabi, the knocks on our door eventually ended when our neighbours called police.
Next – Giving birth in the Arab world

1 Comment

  1. Laura

    There is a guy in Dubai who does the arm wound trick. I first came across him at JBR and didn’t have any cash on me, I was so shocked that I felt guilty for weeks after. Then 2 months later I saw him again at marina metro, much less sympathetic this time and telling him that I would call the police if he didn’t leave right away. Apparently creating a ‘festering’ wound is very easy and used to be a common trick anong European beggars. Great blog by the way! 🙂

    Like

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