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M'sian capital launches crackdown on begging, homelessness

Malaysian authorities are launching a crackdown on begging and homelessness in Kuala Lumpur, in a bid to clean up the capital's image. Under the operation, individuals will be sent to halfway homes and provided with jobs.

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian authorities are launching a crackdown on begging and homelessness in Kuala Lumpur, in a bid to clean up the capital's image.

Under the new operation, individuals will be sent to halfway homes and provided with jobs.

Meanwhile, those who enable begging and homelessness will have to pay fines.

Malaysia's capital city is getting a makeover, and authorities say beggars and the homeless are not part of the new look.

Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, Malaysian Federal Territories Minister, said: "The image of my city is very bad, and cleanliness -- you know, you've got a lot of dengue cases, a lot of problems of them throwing things everywhere, so you need to clean them up. They become a social menace."

Authorities say it is hard to pinpoint the numbers of beggars and homeless people in Kuala Lumpur. But estimates range from the hundreds to more than a thousand.

Whatever the true figure, the government wants the end total to be zero.

It is hoping that a new operation to get the homeless into homes and beggars into proper jobs will do just that.

Tengku Adnan said: "We don't want them to beg, that's the reason why I put them further out. Because they got to work -- some of them can work. We found them work.

"They're so lazy. After two days (of) work, they run off. I'm talking about the ones who physically...can work. If I don't implement harsh (measures), if I don't do these sort of things, society won't be disciplined."

Authorities also want to punish enablers.

Under new bylaws, soup kitchens will no longer be allowed to distribute food to the homeless within a two kilometre radius of the city centre.

Those who give money to beggars will also be fined on the spot.

The crackdown has received mixed reactions from the public.

Haslina Hassan, a hotel employee, said: "I think it's okay, we don't need to give money to beggars. It's right for the government to fine those who do it."

Mohd Salim, a money-changer, said: "People don't know anything about those beggars. Those who give (money to them), give sincerely -- why should they be fined?"

Non-governmental organisations who work closely with those groups of people have been less accepting.

They say the operation shows a lack of understanding of the root causes of homelessness and begging.

Alvin Santhanam, co-ordinator of Carl’s Kitchen food programme, said: "Before they jump into conclusions, why don't they do some kind of research – three-month, six-month research.

“Come down, come out at night, come out at 2 o’clock or 3 o’clock in the morning, and meet the people who are living on the streets. There are so many of them, each one of them has their own story."

The government has noted the backlash.

The Federal Territories Minister said his intention is just to keep Kuala Lumpur clean, and he is now open to making amendments.

Authorities say they are not trying to blunt Malaysians' goodwill either.

Fine money collected from those who help beggars will still be given to the needy --- but through government-approved channels.

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