A UK-based organisation that works for the welfare and wellbeing of pilgrims to Saudi Arabia has urged authorities to adopt a zero tolerance policy on haj operators who exploit their customers.
The call by the Association of British Hujjaj (Pilgrims) UK (ABH) comes just days after Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Haj and Umrah issued new rules intended to protect the rights of pilgrims.
A document published on the ministry’s website said the rules seek to protect pilgrims’ rights through communication centres that refer pilgrims’ complaints to a dedicated committee.
It said any Haj services company that provides “substandard services” will either be fined, suspended from operating for a period of time, and/or have its licence revoked.
ABH said in a statement that the new long awaited directives and rules are “extremely vital to ensure the welfare and wellbeing of Haj/Umrah pilgrims from around the world”.
It added that pilgrims from around the world are “angry and frustrated” about “obscene prices” they are being charged by the service providers.
“It is a total rip-off compared to similar travel packages to other travel destinations around the world, in view that many pilgrims are likely to have spent their life-savings to fulfil their desires and wishes to perform their religious obligations,” ABH said in the statement.
“ABH strongly urges the authorities in Saudi Arabia to adopt a zero tolerance policy and take stern action under the new rules to eliminate malpractice, immoral and unethical activities of the rogue Haj/Umrah service providers.
“The exploitation and malpractice of these service providers are causing extreme mental anguish, trauma, hardship, and financial exploitation to the innocent and vulnerable pilgrims including sick, elderly and the disabled.”
Last week, it was reported that Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has approved plans to increase the number of pilgrims, after the figure hit a reported 10-year low in 2016.
Five years ago, authorities cut the quota for foreign pilgrims by 20 percent and for domestic pilgrims by 50 percent, to ensure safety during the expansion of the Grand Mosque in Makkah.
However, the King has approved plans to gradually restore the original quotas. The exact figures are to be announced following a ministerial meeting later this month, local media said.
Further meetings with heads of Haj ministries across the world have been scheduled to discuss preparations for Haj 2017.