Ramzan boom time for beggars in Saudi Arabia

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Dubai, Sep 30 (UNI) There are reasons to suspect that every foreigner coming to Mecca in 'ihram' (clothing worn while performing Haj) is not a pilgrim.

Several poor foreigners are lured by the prospects of the ''profitable'' trade of begging in the holy city, particularly in the month of Ramzan.

Authorities found that poor families, including small children, earn a lot of money through begging. In most cases, these beggars end up in the detention centres run by the Anti-Beggary Department as they stay in Saudi Arabia even after the expiry of their visas.

Some gangs even resort to the mutilation of healthy children in order to make them beggars. Criminal gangs buy or hire children from poor countries to force them to beg in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

Muhammad Shafi, chairman of the Joint Committee to Combat Begging, said ''The begging gangs are very active in the holy month because it is a time when they are able to earn huge sums. There are organised networks of gangs that arrange for beggars to enter the Kingdom. They also plan their activities, including mutilating them in order to evoke the pity of onlookers.'' A detained beggar, awaiting deportation, at Mecca Anti-Beggary Department jail, Ibrahim Qaid of Yemeni nationality, said he and several others crossed the Saudi-Yemen border with the help of a smuggler who took them to Mecca for a huge fee, Arab News reported.

''Unfortunately, two days after our arrival in Mecca, I was arrested while begging,'' he said.

Mansour Al-Hazmi, director of the Anti-Beggary Department in Mecca, said that about 98 per cent of beggars were foreigners of various nationalities. Some of them were legal residents while others are overstayers.

''There are several families who send their children for begging.

There are also organised groups who bring in children from poor countries and disfigure them for begging,'' Al-Hazmi said, adding that begging usually peaks in Ramzan, when people are usually more charitable.

UNI

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