Saudi Arabia punishes illegal pilgrim transporters

Measures included prison terms, fines and the confiscation of the vehicle used

Manama: Saudi Arabia has named and shamed 18 Saudis and foreigners as it announced the legal measures it took against them for transporting would-be pilgrims without permits.

The measures included prison terms, fines and the confiscation of the vehicle used to drive the would-be pilgrims.

The four foreigners who were held would be deported after serving their terms and paying their fines.

Time in prison was 15 days for the 18 defendants, but fines varied from 15,000 to 140,000 Saudi Riyals. Four transporters had their vehicles confiscated.

The General Directorate for Passports had repeatedly warned against transporting would-be pilgrims who did not secure the proper documents to enter Makkah and perform Haj.

Despite the warnings, several Saudi nationals and foreigners opt to engage in the highly lucrative business of transporting undocumented would-be pilgrims to Makkah, often taking dirt roads to avoid security checkpoints.

The entry restriction aims to control the number of people who can perform the annual rituals and avoid overcrowding and stampedes.

With more than 1.5 million people coming from abroad and around 700,000 from within Saudi Arabia, the numbers pose a serious challenge to capacity.

According to the Centre for International Communication (CIC), an initiative of the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Information to facilitate global media relations, the Grand Mosque in Makkah where the Kaaba is located can accommodate now, following its expansion, up to two million worshippers.

The mosque, the largest in the world, has a surface area of 1,164,000 square metres. Up to 107,000 worshippers can circumambulate the Kaaba at any time.

Figures released by the ICI on its Twitter account about the number of foreigners arriving in Saudi Arabia to perform Haj included 184,000 from Pakistan, 170,000 from India, 90,000 from Turkey and 23,500 from Russia.

According to the Russian Council on Haj, 20,500 Russians were “ready to exercise their sacred duty, but the number of those willing to do Haj is some 24,000”.

“Upon the request of the muftis an official petition was sent to the Saudi Minister for Haj and Umrah to allow an extra 3,000 Russian Muslims to go to Makkah in 2017,” Magomed Gamzayev, the head of the Haj Mission, was quoted as saying.

Gamzayev added that more than 300,000 Russian Muslims have performed pilgrimage since the Council was set up in 2002.

Source Credit: Gulf News http://bit.ly/2wbt0wb

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