Beggars at Kampong Glam harder to spot

SINGAPORE - They roam the Kampong Glam district during this Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, preying on tourists outside Sultan Mosque at Muscat Street for money.

But they never stay at one place for long, afraid of being spotted by the authorities.

On three occasions this month, The New Paper spotted at least six beggars, who appeared to be a mix of local men and women and foreigners from as near as Malaysia to faraway Pakistan.

The beggars prowl Arab Street to take advantage of the generosity usually associated with the Ramadan period.

But there are fewer this year and they are more discreet, compared to 10 years ago, when it was normal to see more than 50 beggars waiting outside Sultan mosque.

As one beggar, who identified himself only as Din, told TNP in Malay last Thursday: "I move around a lot as there are police walking around because begging is an offence here."

TNP understands that auxiliary police officers contracted by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) conduct regular patrols in the areas where many beggars have been seen.

Said Mr Din, who was dressed in a black baju kurung and casual shoes: "I've been having problems with my family, so I came here to meet friends and ask for help."

He looked like any devotee making his way to Sultan Mosque for the evening prayer.

But when we met him that day, the Singaporean, who said he is in his 50s and jobless, was outside the mosque approaching tourists, asking them for money and then moving on.

Mr Din refused to say how much he makes a day from begging.

"I am here just to find extra money, as I have no source of income right now. I know what I am doing is wrong, but I need to feed myself."

Dr Ameen Talib, founder of the Kampong Glam Business Association, said these beggars are a common sight during the Ramadan period "because Muslims tend to be generous during this time".

"As such, many people come here to beg and for some, it becomes a worthwhile venture," added the 51-year-old, a former accountancy professor at the National University of Singapore who set up Cafe Le Claire @ Al Majlis in Arab Street in 2001.


Another shop owner, who declined to be named, believes the beggars have moved away from the Sultan Mosque because there "just isn't any space for them to park themselves there because the Ramadan bazaar is now located outside the mosque".

Dating back to the 1960s, the bazaar used to be in Kandahar Street before moving to Muscat Street in 2012 following concerns over traffic congestion.

The beggars TNP spoke to maintained they are there out of necessity.

One woman, who gave her name only as Madam Leha, is part of a group of women from Malaysia who gather near Sultan Mosque.

Unlike other women who take their children along to gain sympathy, Madam Leha sat alone at a corner opposite North Bridge Road.

She goes there every day from her home in Johor Baru, spending at least eight hours in Kampong Glam working the ground near the mosque.

She refused to say if this is her first time begging here, but she said in Malay: "I have no family, so this is the only way I can earn money to survive.

"On a good day, I can make $50. I can survive on that amount (because) the Singapore dollar is stronger compared to the ringgit," she said.

Shop assistant Haji Mustajab Haji Ibrahim said the begging in the area has become less of a problem.

The 66-year-old, who works at a drinks stall opposite Sultan Mosque, said: "It's a problem we see every year here, but there are fewer beggars now.

"I see more police patrolling the area, especially during the fasting month, so that's probably why we don't see many of them here."

Come across beggars? Call ComCare hotline

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) officers conduct checks on beggars and vagrants when they receive feedback on the ComCare Call hotline at 1800-222-0000.

From January to last month, 38 beggars were picked up by the ministry. Twenty-two of them were Singaporeans and 16 were foreigners.

Last year, MSF's officers picked up 53 beggars.

Said the spokesman: "Locals would be assessed on their social background to see how best they can be assisted.

"Those without family, financial means and accommodation may temporarily reside in a welfare home while social workers work with them on alternative accommodations and other needs.

"Foreigners will be handed over to the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority," he said.

Singaporeans with financial difficulties can approach MSF's Social Service Offices, Family Service Centres or grassroots organisations for help.

There are also voluntary welfare organisations, religious groups and civic organisations that provide various forms of assistance to the needy.

People who come across beggars should call the ComCare Call hotline.

This article was first published on July 15, 2014.
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