Kuwaiti authorities have endorsed 50 Haj operators this year saying that they met all official requirements. “We urge all those who plan to perform pilgrimage this year to register with any of the 50 operators,” Khalaif Al Adhina, the deputy undersecretary for foreign relations at the Ministry of Islamic affairs, said. “Non-Kuwaitis have until August 31 to sign up their names while Kuwaitis must register before September 20,” he said.
Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nationals do not require visas to enter Saudi Arabia and processing their papers is usually smooth and fast. However, foreigners have to apply for visas to enter the Saudi kingdom. Registration with the accredited operators guarantees full legal rights granted by the ministry and allows pilgrims to benefit from the best services, the official said.
Lured by cheaper charges, several Kuwaitis and foreigners sign up with operators that are not accredited by the ministry and they often end up complaining about the low standards or lack of services. “Many of the would-be pilgrims who opt to go with non-accredited operators face severe challenges, including the possibility of not being allowed to enter Makkah as the Saudi authorities have stepped up their fight against operators working illegally,” the official said. “They may also fall victims to abuses, frauds and unfulfilled pledges and promises,” he said.
The Saudi authorities had warned that they would not allow people planning to perform Haj to enter the holy sites if they are not registered with accredited Haj operators. The decision was based on security and organisational concerns related to the large crowds expected to congregate in the area.
Thousands of people had recently suffered problems after their unregistered operators took rugged dirt roads and drove through hills to avoid Saudi checkpoints and reach the sacred sites in Makkah.
Reports referred to cases where would-be pilgrims were abandoned in remote areas after their buses drove off with their luggage to avoid a routine inspection by police patrols.
Last year, a 300-kilometre security cordon was established around the sacred city of Makkah where Muslims congregate to perform pilgrimage in order to keep away infiltrators.
The cordon, set up at the start of the six-day Haj season, included 30 fixed checkpoints and 50 mobile patrols to monitor the perimeter of the city. A special support force of 200 members was on permanent standby for emergency cases, Although Saudi authorities have improved the mass movement of around three million people in a tight area during the Haj, making it faster and smoother, they still have to face formidable challenges posed by people not abiding by the regulations.
Several Saudis and expatriates try to take advantage of the Haj season to make money by making false promises to trusting people keen on performing Haj or by offering “secret passages” to the holy sites to those who are not registered with a Haj operator. Haj , the fifth and last pillar of Islam, requires all physically fit and financially able Muslim men and women to perform Haj at least once in their lives.