Hajj: Western pilgrims abandoned in Mina without guides or tents
Western pilgrims using the Saudi-backed Motawif portal faced more difficulties performing Hajj this week, after they were left abandoned and forced to fend for themselves in the Saudi camp city of Mina.
Pilgrims who spoke to Middle East Eye said Motawif dropped them off in Mina on Wednesday night to perform the rites associated with the annual Hajj pilgrimage. These involve pilgrims camping in Mina before heading to Mount Arafat on Friday, as is the custom.
Pilgrims are also required to remain in a state of Ihram, whereby men wear two sheets of unstitched white cloth, and women must wear clothes that conceal their bodies, leaving only their faces and hands uncovered.
During the state of Ihram, pilgrims must refrain from getting angry.
'It's madness. Motawif allocated no tents. Our guides had disappeared. We were left on our own to sort things out'
- Yusuf, British pilgrim
But when western pilgrims reached Mina on Wednesday night, their camps were not furnished or provided with the services that Motawif had promised.
Motawif promised western pilgrims, who paid for packages worth thousands of dollars, air-conditioned tents that came fully furnished, mattresses with bed sheets, food and drinking water. But pilgrims described tents becoming overcrowded with hundreds of men and women, including many elderly and disabled pilgrims who were not provided with guides.
"It's madness. Motawif allocated no tents. Our guides had disappeared. We were left on our own to sort things out. I had to speak with Asian workers to grab some carpets and cushions," said Yusuf, a British pilgrim from Birmingham.
"The sad thing is that we'd like to concentrate on our worship, but it's difficult when you're trying to sort out somewhere to just sit."
Sulaiman, a pilgrim from Yorkshire, told Middle East Eye the situation in Mina was a "free for all" because Motawif had not split the pilgrims into different groups.
"People were put in random lines and not grouped by camps they were supposed to be in," he said. "I was lucky, as due to the confusion I got on to the bus quicker; but when we reached Mina, it was a free for all. No Motawif people allocated anything, and people took whatever tent they wanted."
Yusuf travelled to Saudi Arabia with his wife and spent at least $25,000 to go to the Hajj via Motawif. His wife told MEE that the women were allocated to a tent promised to a group from Kazakhstan and they faced similar issues to the men.
Farrah had come to the Hajj with her husband, elderly uncle and aunt, who uses a wheelchair. Motawif had promised wheelchairs and volunteers to help pilgrims, but Farrah said she received none of these services.
She described how Motawif had promised a guide to every 90 pilgrims, but they had seen none in the camps since arriving in Mina.
"I've had no food since last night, and my husband is on a very high dose of steroids and needs food, but only had a piece of bread and medicine," said Farrah.
"They failed every promise, and when you contact Motawif, they send back a standard automated response.
"No one knows what to do or where to go. The time here we should be spending in worship, we are instead fighting for sofas."
Videos online showed pilgrims complaining that at least 20 tents at Mina had no air conditioning in the smouldering summer heat. However, MEE could not independently verify this claim.
One British pilgrim also posted pictures of her mattress covered in rat droppings, despite the fact she had paid for the platinum package in Mina.
Motawif also sent mixed messages to pilgrims, confusing them about when they were due to leave Mecca for Mina. Initially, Motawif gave pilgrims on the gold and silver packages an earlier departure time for Mina on Wednesday and Thursday, with platinum package holders issued a later departure time. Motawif then revised these times, but only informed pilgrims hours before their departure, creating confusion and panic.
No hotel rooms
Earlier this week, western pilgrims using Motawif said their hotel in Mecca had run out of rooms, with some people given keys to rooms already occupied by other guests.
Pilgrims also told MEE last week that their Hajj packages worth tens of thousands of dollars had been "downgraded," with no offer given of partial refunds to make up the difference.
In early June, the Saudi government made a surprise decision to sideline traditional travel agencies and instead use Motawif, a government-backed portal run by an Indian company with links to the Indian government, as revealed by MEE, to carry out a lottery system.
Motawif organised a random draw that Muslims from Europe, Australia and the Americas had to go through to attend Hajj this year, set to start on 7 July.