Organised criminals target UAE to beg for money during Ramadan, say Dubai Police

Officers are stationed at mosques and markets across the emirate during the holy month to ward off offenders

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - August 19, 2012 - A man donates to a man begging at Eid Al Fitr outside the Eid prayer Musallah in the Al Baraha section of Deira, Dubai, August 19, 2012. (Photo by Jeff Topping/The National)
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Dubai Police have warned the public to be on the lookout for people who come to the UAE on a visit visa to beg for money during Ramadan.

Known for being a period of charitable giving, the force clamp down on beggars during the holy month as they see an increase in 'begging tourism', where criminals take advantage of UAE residents when they feel particularly generous.

Dubai Police's campaign to crack down on begging during Ramadan has already resulted in the arrest of a woman who exploited her baby son to collect Dh30,000 ($8,168) from members of the public.

Officers are stationed across the emirate during the anti-begging campaign that will run from March 1 to April 13, particularly near mosques and markets and other areas commonly frequented by beggars.

Every year, the force arrests hundreds for begging, and asking for money illegally in the UAE can land offenders up to three months in prison and a fine of Dh5,000. Members of criminal gangs involved in organised begging can receive a minimum jail term of six months and a fine of Dh10,000.

Anyone asking for donations on social media without official permission can face fines of between Dh250,000 and Dh500,000, under the UAE's cybercrime laws.

Brig Ali Al Shamsi, director of suspects and criminal phenomena department at Dubai Police, said earlier this month that the force had detained a woman who was found with Dh30,000, after using her baby to illicit sympathy from generous strangers.

“Another female beggar, who was involved in organised begging, was arrested and found with Dh60,000,” he said.

Rising issue

Brig Al Shamsi said the force arrested 499 beggars – 342 men and 157 women – last year, up from 318 in 2022.

About 1,702 beggars have been arrested in the past four years in Dubai, according to official figures.

Of these, 99 per cent consider begging an occupation, said officials.

The force said that the majority of the beggars were visitors who come during Ramadan seeking easy money.

“They know people in the UAE are helpful and sympathetic,” Brig Al Al Shamsi said.

“People should not sympathise with beggars as they dupe Emiratis and residents by pretending they have a disability, a disease or have lost their jobs.”

He said most beggars exploit people's religions, generosity and charitable sentiments for personal gain.

“Dubai Police launches the anti-begging campaign annually during Ramadan as people are more inclined to give to those in need, particularly during the holy month. Beggars know that.”

Brig Saeed Al Qemzi, assistant director of the general directorate of investigations for criminal operations affairs at Dubai Police, said the anti-begging campaign aims to educate the public about the dangers of begging.

“We urge members of the public to report beggars who exploit people's generosity during the holy month to collect money,” he said.

Brig Al Qemzi said that people willing to help those in need should go to verified and official charities to donate their money, to ensure that it goes to the right people.

“People shouldn't be deceived by beggars, as different crimes can result from begging – such as burglary and abusing children, elderly and people of determination to raise money illegally,” he said.

“People should not show compassion to beggars' fake appearances. They must instead help police by reporting them.”

Struggling to pay the rent

A beggar, from South Africa, who was asking strangers for money to pay the rent near a mosque in Dubai told The National that he came to the emirate on a visit visa searching for a job but failed to find employment.

“It is the first time I'm begging for money,” he said.

“I have rent and expenses to pay here but I ran out of money and don't have a job.

“I know it is illegal but I'm desperate and have no other options.”

The 40-year-old man claimed that he has a family and teenage son back in his home country that he has to support.

“It is very a difficult and stressful situation. There are many people, like me, who are losing jobs. I will move around and maybe I will find a job,” he added.

“I don't want to return to my country empty-handed.”

Layla Atif, an Egyptian homemaker, said she used to give small amounts of cash to beggars, especially during Ramadan as part of good deeds in the holy month.

“I used to give sums of cash as I like to help others in need, but after the police campaigns I decided to help them by purchasing a meal,” she said.

“Some refused and walked away, but others thanked me for the meal.”

The Sharjah-based resident and mother of two said she sees beggars frequently around mosques, markets and car parks.

“I ask them about their reasons for begging and they tell me different stories to stir my emotions, such as they lost their job or they don't have any money for medication,” she said.

“Usually I give them Dh5 or Dh10 but recently I decided to either buy a meal or donate the money to charity.”

Members of the public are urged to report beggars on the streets, as well as people asking for money online, to the force's call centre on 901, the Police Eye smart service or the e-crime platform.

Updated: March 25, 2024, 6:11 AM