KUALA LUMPUR: Checking into hotels, shopping in the city's high streets but out begging for money? Cunning for sure- and that's what some beggars claiming to be Syrian and Palestinian Arab have been up to.
In a bid to raise sympathy from the public, a number of "street beggars" who appear to be Middle Eastern are now seen lining up the streets in some of KL's tourist hotspots like Jalan Imbi and Bukit Bintang, asking for donations.
Harian Metro reporters and photographers who had followed a group of the beggars from a hotel believed to be where they put up, have managed to catch them in action.
Based on a survey conducted around the capital, including Jalan Imbi, Bukit Bintang, Jalan Hang Tuah, Masjid India, Pasar Seni and Jalan Petaling, it found that the group was not controlled by any syndicate.
When not out begging, these masters of disguise would pose as tourists, staying at nice hotels and eating at fast-food restaurants with their families.
The survey also found that the beggars would leave their hotel at around 4pm in the day and return around 2 in the morning later.
They have been seen moving from one place to another, targeting locations like restaurants, crowded areas, and nightclubs to beg.
A journalist approached one female beggar along with her child, who appeared to be in her 40s, while they were begging in Bukit Bintang.
The woman showed one finger, which may have meant she wanted RM1 from the journalist.
The beggar had claimed to be from Syria and came to Malaysia as a refugee.
An Arab food trader, Sulihin Jawhari, 42, said that the beggars are not from where they claimed to be but rather tourists from other Middle Eastern countries.
"Based on their accent, they are not from Syria as claimed but from another country in the Middle East. It seems like their modus operandi is to enter the country as tourists, beg and then return to their home country.
"Most of those who beg in these restaurants are different individuals, so it's difficult to find the same ones returning," he said.
He explained that these beggars would typically bring young children along with a piece of paper claiming they were from Syria or Palestine.
"As someone sharing the same nationality, I feel somewhat embarrassed by their actions because it also affects our businesses.
"We ourselves (make an effort to) follow the laws of this country in conducting our business," he added.
Meanwhile, for traders in Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, the presence of Middle Eastern beggars has become commonplace in the area.
One of the traders there, Zainab Kadir, 53, said that these groups of beggars would rotate their 'shifts' and target the public who were shopping in the area.
"I saw one of them being arrested last week, but I am not sure who arrested them.
"But they are quite numerous; we traders have also lodged complaints. We even uploaded videos of them begging on social media and warned the public not to be too generous when faced with them," she said.
She added that the presence of beggars in the area affected her business.
"It is somewhat disturbing. Customers also become uncomfortable and will leave the shop, but some still donate because they don't want to be bothered while shopping.
"Usually, these beggars are women wearing veils and robes. They are not fluent in Malay and only use hand signals to communicate to elicit sympathy from the public," she said.
Zainab has requested authorities take stern action against these beggars because their actions tarnished the image of Kuala Lumpur.
"This group is quite cunning; they can work if they enter using work permits, but if they come here as tourists, they should not engage in such activities," she added.
Entering as tourists before becoming beggars
Beggars from the Middle East are believed to enter the country as tourists before engaging in begging activities.
The Kuala Lumpur Social Welfare Department director, Che Samsuzuki Che Noh, said that their observations through operations have found that most of them enter as tourists.
"If they enter illegally, they do not have documents such as passports and the like.
That's why after we take action, we will hand them over to the Immigration Department for further action," he said when contacted yesterday. He added that based on records, beggars who were rescued during the Anti-Begging Operation conducted by the Social Welfare Department, they found an increase in the number of foreign beggars.
"A total of 560 beggars were detained from Jan to Aug, with 380 foreigners and 180 locals.
The total is higher than 234 beggars in 2022, with 98 non-citizens and 136 local beggars.
They were detained through 63 scheduled operations and 14 ad hoc operations based on public complaints. The highest collection was RM9,885, the highest so far," he said.
Commenting further on the statistics, Che Samsuzuki said that 67 of the rescued beggars were foreign children, in addition to 10 disabled beggars who were not citizens.
"We saved 75 citizens and 25 non-citizens," he said.
He said that joint operations would continue to be carried out by the Social Welfare Department together with Kuala Lumpur City Hall, the Royal Malaysia Police and the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Department to curb such activities.
He also said that advocacy campaigns such as "Give Wisely, Avoid Deception" are being conducted to raise awareness among the public not to be deceived by beggars who take advantage, in addition to lodging complaints with the Kasih 15999 Helpline.