Mister, Can You Spare a Dinar? Life with the Beggar Mafia of Basra
Some estimates suggest that almost a third of the residents in one of Iraq’s oil-richest cities live in poverty. And now begging has gone beyond poverty, human rights groups say, it’s become a business here and one of the most popular ‘jobs’ around.
By rights the southern Iraqi city of Basra should be one of Iraq’s wealthiest – it is the site of a major port and some of Iraq’s biggest oil fields are located in the surrounding province. But somehow this wealth has not had any effect on the lives of many ordinary people who live here – the poverty level in Iraq sits at around 22 percent but some recent estimates suggest that it’s higher in Basra. They say that just over a third of the population in Basra live in poverty.
Possibly this is why begging appears to have become an industry here and why local beggars have formed gangs, become associated with criminals and also developed a wide variety of techniques for begging.
The beggars of Basra have developed systems. Begging is like a job here with the beggars choosing where to ask for donations depending on which day it is. So, for instance, on Mondays they might work on the bridges, on Tuesdays in the market places and, on Thursdays and Fridays, at the mosques.
“Fridays and other religious occasions are the best, blessed days,” Hussein Jaber, a 40-year-old beggar, explained to NIQASH. “We ask people for money and tell them that we will ask the clerics to pray for them and their loved ones and their sick or dead relatives. But it’s not easy to find a spot near a religious site,” Jaber admitted. “Almost all of the spots for begging are occupied by veiled women. In fact there are fierce fights between these women to get a place closest to the entrance of a mosque. If one finds such a place, one does not give it up easily because it is very precious in terms of returns you can make here.”