Sunday, May 4, 2014

New restrictions on Umrah and Hajj pilgrims

For millions of Muslims around the world, performing Hajj is one of their primary duties and people plan for this important pilgrimage several months in advance. Though desirable but not compulsory for Muslims, equally important is the Umrah pilgrimage. The Hajj and Umrah Committee in Saudi Arabia has now announced certain new restrictions on pilgrims intending to perform Umrah this year.



Though the Umrah pilgrimage can be done independent of Hajj, most people prefer to perform the same during Ramadan (in particular the last 10 days) or just before or after Hajj. The number of pilgrims are increasing each year causing a massive logistics problem for the Saudi authorities. This was one of the reasons why pilgrims within Saudi Arabia were put on a 5-year ban for re-performing the Hajj, to give chance for others, and also to relieve some congestion.

One of the major causes of concern for the Saudi Government as well as for pilgrims is the grave danger of spread of contagious diseases. Considering the huge number of pilgrims congregating in the two cities of Makkah and Madina, it is indeed a challenging task for the Saudi authorities.
 
In 2009, after the outbreak of Swine flu disease, the Saudi Government had imposed certain restrictions on Hajj pilgrimage (please click here for details). A similar situation has now arisen and this time, it is the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, commonly known as the MERS which was first noticed in Saudi Arabia in 2012. MERS is a killer respiratory disease with no available vaccine, considered more deadly than SARS. Close to 400 people are now dead (click here) - and this is the official count -  because of this disease which is thought to spread from camels to human beings. Please see this chart released by the Ministry of Health:



The alarming rise in the number of deaths due to MERS has forced the Hajj and Umrah Committee in the kingdom, the nodal organization for Hajj and Umrah services in Saudi Arabia, to come out with new restrictions for Umrah pilgrims. As per the new decision, pilgrims above 60 years and children are not being given visa papers for both Umrah as well as Hajj this year. Also, those who have not been vaccinated for other types of flu are also being denied visa papers. The disease is spreading fast and Governments across the world, from Singapore (click here) to the US (click here) have issued health advisories.
 
All Umrah and Hajj tour operators across the world must necessarily be associated with one of the authorized Private Tour Operator based in Saudi Arabia. Click on this link for more details about such operators. As mentioned earlier in this blog (click here), a third of the pilgrims are above 65 years. And going by the advisory issued by the Ministry of Health (click here), it is best that the elderly as well as children, pregnant women, particularly those with respiratory and cardiac ailments, in addition to diabetes, postpone their pilgrimage plans to the kingdom for Umrah and Hajj this year.

Update as on 5th May:

So typical of the bureaucracy in the kingdom, the moment this article came out, an official of the Hajj Ministry came out this morning with a denial saying that there were no age restrictions for performing Umrah and Hajj (click here). However, fact is that the Hajj and Umrah Committee's President (the nodal organization responsible for organizing Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages) has clearly mentioned that visa papers are not being accepted from pilgrims over 60 years and children (click here) "following a Health Ministry's advisory". So, here is the Health Ministry issuing an advisory based on which visa applications are not being accepted and the very next day, the Hajj Ministry comes out saying that they were "the sole entities authorized to issue advisories", as though everything was absolutely normal. Two Ministries working at cross purposes? Or simply developing cold feet? Sadly, one more person passed away today due to MERS with 15 more new cases being reported. This is straight from the Ministry of Health's website (click here). Come on, if there is a potential epidemic brewing, why not just face it and take measures to control it rather than brushing it under the carpet. People need to know the truth and right away.
 

6 comments:

Jawad said...

Are you aware of any official warning from some KSA Authority as well?

Expatguru said...

Jawaid,

Please see the Ministry of Health's link which I have given above.

Anonymous said...

Dear Expat guru,As per the arab news link http://www.arabnews.com/news/525686

After i read the article i get the meaning that if the employer transfers money to bank account only those companies come under "Wage protection system" and it should be more than 1000 employees firm.In my case its a small company less than 100 and bank transfer doesn't happen they pay in cash... so can an employee opt for transfer without employers consent if salary not paid for 3 months in small firms like the one which i work for. plssss let me know your thoughts on this

Expatguru said...

Anonymous,

Even for companies with employees over 1000 people, this rule has not been implemented yet. It has just appeared in the newspaper, so don't believe everything which appears in the paper because the reality is different. I suggest that you simply go on exit after giving 30 days written notice, which will make it easier for you to return. All the best!

Mishba said...

Excellent post! Thanks a lot for sharing. Really very useful and informative post. I like it.

Noori Travel said...

Great post! Thanks for sharing.