Lahore, October 1
Sixteen alleged Pakistani beggars disguised as pilgrims were offloaded from a Saudi Arabia-bound flight and arrested for trying to travel to the Gulf Kingdom to indulge in begging, according to a media report on Sunday.
The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) offloaded the beggars from the Saudi-bound flight in Multan in Punjab province two days back, the Dawn newspaper reported.
According to the FIA, the group comprising 16 persons, including a child, 11 women and four men, was travelling on Umrah visas. The Umrah is an Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca that can be undertaken at any time of the year.
The FIA officials during the immigration process questioned the passengers who confessed that they were going to Saudi Arabia to seek alms, the paper said.
They also told the FIA that they would have to give half of their earnings from begging to the agents involved in their travel arrangements, it said.
They were to return to Pakistan after the expiry of their Umrah visas.
The FIA Multan circle arrested the passengers for further interrogation and legal action.
The arrests came a day after the Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development disclosed to the Senate Committee on Overseas Pakistanis that a significant proportion of beggars are trafficked abroad through illegal channels.
The ministry’s secretary revealed to the Senate panel that a staggering 90 per cent of beggars apprehended in foreign countries belong to Pakistan.
“Pakistani beggars travel to the Middle East under the guise of ziyarat (pilgrimage). Most people visit Saudi Arabia on Umrah visas and then indulge in begging-related activities,” Secretary Overseas Pakistanis Zeeshan Khanzada told a meeting of the Senate’s standing committee last month.
“Both the Iraqi and Saudi ambassadors have reported overcrowded jails due to these arrests,” he had said.
A majority of the pickpockets arrested from within Mecca’s grand mosque are Pakistani nationals, The International News daily had quoted Khanzada as saying.
Pakistan is facing an unprecedented economic crisis with skyrocketing inflation amid price rises on fuel and food fronts.
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