(MENAFN - Arab News) The streets of Jeddah are witnessing a huge game of hide-and-seek as the city's numerous beggars do their best to escape the clutches of the security forces responsible for clearing them from the streets.
"In spite of all the efforts made by the authorities concerned in the fight against the phenomenon of begging, the sympathy of citizens who hand out money to beggars in front of traffic signals and commercial complexes only serves to make matters worse," according to a city official who asked to remain anonymous.
Observers explained that the beggars' ploy of pretending to be handicapped taps into a soft part of the Saudi heart. On the other hand, many citizens believe that begging has spread significantly because of the poor performance of those responsible for ridding the streets of beggars and the healthy daily income earned through the sympathy of Saudis.
"Begging at traffic signals has become vital to the survival of many of the children and women doing it, but I think they are exploited by expats who manage such operations. There are a lot of female beggars who wear traditional Saudi clothing in order to get people's sympathy, especially that of Saudis," said Yousef Al-Ghamdi.
Abdullah Al-Qarni said: "Saudis are emotional people. If any child or woman asked me for money, I would give him what I could. However, a rise in this phenomenon makes us wonder about the reasons behind it."
A committee to find a solution to begging has been formed by Prince Mishal bin Majed and includes members of the Jeddah Police Department, the Passport Department, the Anti-Beggary Bureau, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, Al-Mujahideen, and the Traffic Administration.
The anti-beggary squads patrol all areas of Jeddah and are charged with arresting beggars. If those arrested are foreigners who are in the country illegally, they are handed over to Expatriate Affairs to be deported to their home countries. If those arrested are Saudis, they are handed over to Social Affairs who then determines their social status and condition. If they are found to be unable to work, they are transferred to Social Security. But if they are capable of working, they are transferred to the Labor Office which will find jobs for them," Saad Al-Shahrani, director of the anti-beggary office in Jeddah, explained.
Al-Shahrani said 99 percent of beggars in Saudi Arabia are expats and were smuggled into the country in order to beg. There is a network of people who exploit children and women, employ them to beg, secure accommodation for them and drop them at traffic signals to raise money.
"Jeddah police have arrested 646 men, women and children in one month," said acting spokesman for the Jeddah Police, Nawaf Al-Boq. He said investigative teams have been able to arrest many people who exploit the vulnerability of children and women who were smuggled into the country to beg.
Al-Boq also disclosed that a security team monitors sites where beggars tend to gather.
Chairman of the private Social Development committee, Sheikh Salem Abuhadi said: "The phenomenon of begging is performed by expats. We must raise the community awareness on how to deal properly with beggars.
"Citizens and residents should be aware of people who are eligible for charity. Legitimate charity organizations know the people who really need donations."