Haj security alert for organisers

This year almost 5,000 people from the UAE have been issued permits to attend the pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.

Haj pilgrims spend the second day of the pilgrimage on Mount Arafat by standing in prayer and supplication. Mohammed Al Shaikh / AFP
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ABU DHABI // Haj pilgrims should be made aware of safety precautions to avoid becoming victims of crime or stampedes, authorities have warned.

This year almost 5,000 people from the UAE have been issued permits to attend the pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.

At a meeting for Haj mission organisers on Tuesday, officials from the General Authority of Islamic Affairs & Endowments (Awqaf) reminded attendees that it was their duty to ensure the safety of pilgrims under their command.

“It is inevitable that we should be on security alert more than usual,” said Dr Mohammed Al Kaabi, general director of Awqaf.

He said the heads of missions should pass on security advice to pilgrims.

“The UAE is targeted by [some] pilgrims and other concerned parties, so by all means you should sense security issues and educate pilgrims on these issues,” he said.

“Don’t let them act randomly, you should coordinate with them.”

He instructed the organisers to monitor the entrances to their pilgrims’ camps, not allowing anyone without a UAE Haj permit to enter. Pilgrims should also be told that they are not allowed to let strangers or non-UAE-based pilgrims inside their tents.

“This is also to avoid congestion inside the tents,” said Mr Al Kaabi.

There will be electronic scanners on entry to the camps, which will display the pilgrims’ details, tent and bed number.

The Emirates Identity Authority has provided Awqaf with 200 electronic ID readers for this year’s Haj.

He said that pilgrims should be made aware of the location of the UAE’s official mission headquarters in Mecca, Mina, Muzdalifa and Arafat – the locations of the Haj.

At last year’s Haj, hundreds of pilgrims were killed in a stampede in Mina in which crowds were crushed into a bottleneck.

Mr Al Kaabi said the UAE mission heads were able to handle the situation “with great expertise” as they congregated all the pilgrims in a place away from the crush, thus preventing any injuries.

He stressed that mission heads should keep all their clients’ passports with them in a safe place, so they do not get lost or stolen if left with the pilgrims.

“Instruct them to keep copies of their ID cards and passports with them for emergencies.”

Captain Mohammed Al Naqbi, a border official from the Ministry of Interior, said pilgrims should try to avoid crowded areas for security reasons.

“Their permit must always be with them, because it is a must to enter Mina (and other Haj locations), to avoid delaying procedures.”

The UAE’s 4,982 pilgrims have been allocated special airport entry checkpoints in Saudi Arabia to avoid getting stuck in long queues, he said.

“We already prepared our borders and added more staff members and counters for pilgrims.”

He reminded the audience that Saudi Arabia, like many other countries, will not allow anyone with less than six months passport validity to enter. “So everyone should double check their passports beforehand,” he said.

Omran Khamis, general manager of the Al Ghoroob Haj agency, said every year they faced problems when trying to leave Arafat to go to Muzdalifa.

“Last year we were standing in the queue, but the police let pilgrims who were staying on the streets pass first,” he said. “So you could send an official letter to the police informing them that we should be given priority, because they follow orders.”

Another problem was women’s accommodation in Mina and Arafat.

The Awqaf said this problem would be solved this year, because each mission manager will be in charge of big camp for all his pilgrims with enough sofa beds and facilities in advance.

“So each owner will have the keys and run his tent by himself.”