Jul 26, 2012

Pickpocketing Problems in Central Ulaanbaatar

I am sure this is a subject raised / reported to embassies every summer in Ulaanbaatar.  Pickpocketing along the main Peace Avenue, particularly between the Central Post Office  and the State Department Store, starts in earnest about June each year and continues into September.  We operate shop near the State Department Store and near the Gobi Cashmere Shop on Peace right in the pickpocketing heartland.

This year the pickpockets are more organised, mainly teenage boys and girls often dressed in similar ways to tourists, with a minder pushing them into action.  Whilst we know people should be responsible for looking after their own property, we do remind shoppers all the time about the pickpockets and their techniques – primarily one person walking in front of the target and slowing them down whilst 3 others push and steal from behind or simply working people’s bags when a bag is on the target’s back.

If challenged, the pickpockets immediately threaten people, sometimes pulling knives.  I have been threatened when stopping pickpocketing taking place and my staff have also received threats.  We have people talking to us daily, many traumertised, about what they have lost and the threats received.  We have discussed reporting the events to the police but our staff have said this will be a waste of time and that the links they perceive between pickpockets and authorities will only cause us and our staff more problems and threats.  Our staff, whilst recognising the pickpockets, are unwilling to put themselves in danger by identifying them.

In previous years after fairly high level official complaints, we think by embassies, both uniformed and plain clothed police have been put on the area in Peace Avenue, immediately moving the pickpockets away from the most crowded areas of town.  No action has taken place this year to deter the pickpockets. It affects tourism, business and the reputation of Mongolia, but seems of little importance since the mining boom has started.

We should note that foreigners and Mongolians alike are targets but the Mongolians seems to be more street wise.  Further Mongolians see foreigners being pickpocketed but will not intervene because of the threats and violence used by the pickpockets.