UAE expatriates find hard to afford Hajj

UAE expatriates find hard to afford Hajj
Tue Aug 13, 2013 11:05:47

Expatriates in the UAE hoping to perform Hajj this year are finding it extremely hard to find affordable seats, with many operators still unaware of their package details or having no seats to offer.

The travel agents who have places for hopeful expatriate pilgrims have also increased their rates, with some even reportedly doubling the cost of their services, reports said on Saturday.

“I have been scouting around for a Hajj package since February this year as my wife and I are very keen on performing Hajj. However, the majority of operators I have contacted either have no seats or are still uninformed about what they will have to offer. Given that Hajj is just about two months away, I am now extremely concerned,” said Mohammad M, 29, a South Asian engineer in Abu Dhabi.

Hajj is one of the five main pillars of Islam, and it is mandatory for Muslims who have the financial and physical capability to undertake it at least once in their lifetime. This year, the pilgrimage season comes in October.

The 2012 Hajj drew 3.1 million people – and this year’s event likewise occurs in October, as the northern hemisphere slides into the season for coughs and sneezes.

The delay in information about Hajj packages seems to have stemmed from the ongoing construction at the Masjid al Haram holy site in Mecca, which has prompted the Saudi Hajj ministry to reduce the number of pilgrims coming from abroad by about 20 per cent and from Saudi Arabia by half.

UAE travel agents said they urged pilgrims to reapply next year, with a significant number unable to offer any seats to expatriates and others saying that the four to five expatriate seats they had been assigned were already booked. Places for Emiratis were however more widely available.

According to Mohammad Obaid Al Mazroui, the head of the Hajj committee at the General Authority for Islamic Affairs and Endowments (AWQAF), the UAE has about 148 licensed Hajj campaigns. This year, due to the expansion work at Mecca’s holy site, the country has been assigned only 5,000 seats, compared with 6,248 UAE seats in 2012, he said.

Another major hurdle this year has been the skyrocketing rates, with many agencies pricing a basic package for expatriate pilgrims, including an economy class air ticket and shared hotel accommodation, between Dh45,000 and Dh70,000.


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