The first group of Syrian pilgrims arrived directly from Damascus in Mecca for the first time in 12 years. Image Credit: SPA

Cairo: Saudi Arabia is pursuing a global clampdown in cooperation with other countries to expose businesses involved in promoting fake tours for the annual Islamic Hajj pilgrimage, an official has disclosed.

“There is work with Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq, and other countries where such campaigns proliferate. Such companies in those countries have been dismantled,” said Ayed Al Ghuwaynem, Undersecretary of the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah for Hajj Affairs.

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"Those who swindle pilgrims know well that the targeted pilgrims cannot undertake Hajj, given all the security precautions in place for their safety,” he told the Saudi-owned newspaper Asharq Al Awsat.
The official also mentioned a high-profile campaign inside Saudi Arabia, where several individuals have been recently arrested for illegally promoting Hajj-related services on social media.

“The Ministry of Hajj will be firm in deterring illegal entry into the holy places, including Mecca. Government bodies, led by security agencies, are doing Herculean work in this regard, including setting up security checkpoints inside Mecca to curtail irregular pilgrims’ infiltration,” he said.

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Al Ghuwaynem expects the number of pilgrims this year to surpass those of the past season when 1.8 million Muslims performed the obligatory Islamic duty. “It is hard now to give specific figures until the end of the Day of Arafat,” he added, referring to the peak day of pilgrimage.

Saudi Arabia has recently cautioned Muslims planning to perform Hajj about fake campaigns and websites, and has defined associated legal channels. The ministry stressed that all pilgrims must obtain a Hajj permit.

Starting June 2, Saudi Arabia will enforce penalties against Muslims caught trying to illegally perform Hajj in and around Mecca. This year’s Hajj rites are expected to commence on June 14, depending on the sighting of the new moon.

Violators of Hajj regulations, whether citizens, foreign residents, or visitors, are liable to a fine of SR10,000. Violating expatriates will also be deported and barred from re-entry into the kingdom. The fine will double upon repetition.

A person caught transporting violators of Hajj-related instructions and illegal pilgrims faces up to six months in jail and a maximum fine of SR50,000. If the violating transporter is an expatriate, they will be deported from the kingdom after serving their term.