JEDDAH, 22 November — The Ministry of Haj has closed and fined 25 Umrah
companies which were found guilty of neglecting their contractual obligations
with foreign pilgrims or involved in shady dealings such as selling visas at an
Muhammad Saleh Bantan, undersecretary for Umrah affairs, said the ministry
has beefed up inspections around the squares of the Holy Mosque and its
neighborhood to round up pilgrims who ran away from the firms which arranged
their journey to the Kingdom. The move follows complaints from many Umrah
establishments that several pilgrims disappeared after their arrival in the
There were recent media reports about hundreds of pilgrims found loitering on
the pavements of Jeddah and Makkah.
Bantan disclosed that the steps to curb the practice of pilgrims sleeping on
pavements and squares of the Grand Mosque included chartering special planes and
ships for their deportation. The cost of their transportation will have to be
met by the establishments that brought them to the Kingdom in the first place.
This money required for chartering planes and ships will be deducted from
financial deposits made by the Umrah establishments with the Haj Ministry, the
The Umrah firms are themselves being interrogated by the ministry regarding
why they did not provide accommodation to the pilgrims.
There are 200 registered Umrah establishments in the Kingdom, each with a
deposited bank guarantee of SR200,000 with the ministry. The ministry itself has
provided accommodation for 300 pilgrims in Makkah and 280 in Madinah. These were
pilgrims who were not provided accommodation by the establishments which brought
While the Haj Ministry expects 800,000 pilgrims to perform Umrah this year,
the Interior Ministry has extended the last date to issue Umrah visas till Nov.
The Transport Ministry and the public security department have jointly
announced the new regulations regarding the transportation of pilgrims in
Makkah. Any vehicle violating the regulations will be removed outside the city