New Delhi: Pakistan, which is already facing a crisis of economy, security, and diplomacy, has now added another problem to its list of woes: beggars. According to the Pakistani government, a large number of Pakistani citizens go abroad to beg, especially in Middle Eastern countries, where they are arrested and jailed. The Pakistani government has admitted that 90 percent of the beggars detained in foreign countries are from Pakistan.
This shocking revelation was made by Zeeshan Khanzada, the secretary of the Overseas Pakistanis Ministry while briefing the Senate Standing Committee on Overseas Pakistanis on Wednesday. He said that about 10 million Pakistanis live abroad, out of which a significant number are involved in begging. He said that these beggars obtain visas through human trafficking channels or under the pretext of pilgrimage and then resort to begging on the streets of foreign countries.
He also said that most of the pickpockets caught inside the Grand Mosque in Mecca are Pakistanis, who target the pilgrims who come to perform Umrah. He said that the ambassadors of Iran and Saudi Arabia have informed Pakistan that their jails are overcrowded with Pakistani beggars and have requested Pakistan to take action to stop this practice. He said that this issue is bringing shame and disgrace to Pakistan on the global stage.
He also said that many flights from Pakistan to the Middle East are fully booked with beggars, who pay hefty amounts to travel agents to get visas. He said that Japan has also emerged as a new destination for Pakistani beggars, according to a report by India Today.
The secretary also lamented that Pakistan is unable to send its skilled and unskilled workers to foreign countries, where there is a high demand for laborers from India and Bangladesh. He said that foreign employers have doubts about the skills and trustworthiness of Pakistani workers, unlike those from India and Bangladesh. He also said that Pakistan lacks expertise in fields like mountain climbing, where Nepal has an edge.
He urged the ministry to devise a strategy with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other related ministries to facilitate the export of Pakistani engineers and other skilled workers to countries like Japan, China, and others, where there are opportunities for employment and development.
Begging is illegal in Pakistan under the West Pakistan Vagrancy Ordinance of 1958, but the law is largely ignored and unenforced. According to various estimates, there are between 5 million and 25 million beggars in Pakistan, which constitute about 2.5 percent to 11 percent of the total population. Most of them are concentrated in urban areas like Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad. Many of them are children who are exploited by organized begging mafias, who mutilate or drug them to evoke sympathy from the public.
Begging is also considered a social stigma and a nuisance in many Islamic countries, where it is prohibited or discouraged by religious authorities. However, some beggars take advantage of the religious sentiments of the people, especially during festivals like Ramadan and Eid, when giving alms is considered a virtue. Some beggars also pose as pilgrims or refugees to solicit money from the people.