British Muslim journey businesses in uproar over Saudi hajj adjustments | Hajj

British Muslim journey corporations have mentioned they face going out of enterprise, with travellers doubtlessly dropping 1000’s of kilos, after Saudi Arabia launched a brand new system for making use of for the hajj pilgrimage.

The Saudi authorities introduced this month that pilgrims from Europe, the US and Australia might now not guide via journey businesses and would as a substitute have to use via a lottery system.

A drastically lowered quota will allow a couple of thousand British Muslims to carry out hajj this 12 months, with the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah advising these with present bookings to “request refunds from tour operators/brokers”.

However journey corporations mentioned the sudden change – introduced by Saudi Arabia in a transfer to crack down on fraudulent corporations weeks earlier than the beginning of the pilgrimage to Mecca from 7 to 12 July – might trigger them to go beneath.

The hajj, an obligation for able-bodied Muslims, is without doubt one of the largest non secular pilgrimages on the earth and often attracts about 2 million individuals a 12 months. The Council of British Hajjis charity estimates the UK’s hajj sector is price about £200m.

Since 2006 it has been obligatory to guide hajj packages via licensed journey corporations. Potential pilgrims at the moment are required to guide via a web-based portal, Motawif, with profitable candidates randomly chosen by an automatic lottery system. They will then guide lodging and transport instantly via the web site. All travellers have to be beneath 65 and vaccinated in opposition to the coronavirus.

Ilyas Grasp, 56, who has provided packages for hajj and the shorter umrah pilgrimage via his Atol-registered journey company in Bradford for 15 years, mentioned: “We have been almost absolutely booked. However we refunded most of our prospects. We misplaced our cash in Saudi Arabia, not less than about £35,000. There’s little or no hope of recovering that.”

Grasp mentioned he was now wanting into various earnings streams, together with providing visa providers, including: “If we will’t stick with it, it’s going to drive us to shut down.”

Travellers have reported glitches with the brand new on-line portal. Amal Ullah, from Nottingham, spent greater than 10 years’ price of financial savings when she paid £40,000 for a hajj package deal for her household via Motawif. She mentioned: “I checked the portal, and it mentioned the reserving had failed,” regardless of having acquired an official e mail confirming she and several other members of the family had been chosen and their visas have been being processed.

A number of hajj candidates have shared their frustrations on Twitter utilizing the hashtag #paidbutfailed. Motawif’s Twitter account says package deal costs are on common 35% lower than market charges. However Ullah mentioned the packages she purchased rose near £10,000 per individual, with motels about two miles from the principle non secular websites.

In 2020 there was an unprecedented discount in hajj pilgrims (to about 10,000 individuals) as a result of pandemic. Final 12 months’s hajj was restricted to 60,000 vaccinated individuals, aged 18 to 65, from Saudi Arabia, with abroad pilgrims banned. Earlier than the pandemic, about 25,000 Britons have been making the pilgrimage yearly.

Individuals who booked with tour corporations protected by the Air Journey Organiser’s Licence (Atol) ought to be issued a refund. However many British Muslim journey corporations that acquired deposits for flights in 2020 and deferred hajj packages to this 12 months due to the Covid pandemic have been left in monetary limbo.

“These companies in all probability nonetheless have tens of thousands and thousands of kilos caught in Saudi Arabia,” mentioned Seán McLoughlin, a professor on the College of Leeds who interviewed hajj and umrah tour corporations for the first unbiased report into the UK’s hajj business, revealed in 2019.

The Saudi authorities mentioned the change was a part of efforts to crack down on fraudulent journey businesses. The method of making use of for hajj would even be streamlined via e-visa providers. It’s unclear whether or not the system may even be used subsequent 12 months.

In keeping with Motawif’s phrases and situations, the final date for granting visas to pilgrims from exterior Saudi Arabia was Friday, however Ullah has nonetheless acquired no communication from Motawif concerning the standing of her utility. She mentioned: “We’d like the ministry of miracles fairly than the ministry of hajj proper now.”

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