Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Squatting still a Problem

Tuesday, 18 December 2007
By Adel Al-Malki
Despite official orders against squatting on the streets in the holy sites, many pilgrims still camp out on the pavements and the sides of the main streets that lead to Mina.
Some pilgrims, who couldn't find space on the roads, pitched their tents on the government facilities, like the telecom and electricity department premises. Maj. Gen. Saad Al-Khelaiwi, deputy chief of Haj Forces, said they have at least 10,000 soldiers tasked to implement the directive against squatting and the carrying of luggage on to the roads.
They also formed a team to organize the pedestrians in the holy sites, and monitor groups going to Jamrat.
Fathi Hasanain, an Egyptian, said some pilgrims have no choice but to camp out on the road because their Haj companies didn't deliver on their promise to provide them with accommodation. To earn more, these companies bought more Haj visas than the capacity of camps, he said.
"I bought my Haj visa for a very high cost," Hasaneen said. "And though there was a bus that waited for us in front of the Jeddah Islamic Port, most of us did not have camps to sleep in when we arrived in Mina."
Pilgrims who are residents of Makkah or those who entered the holy sites illegally aim to squat near Jamrat.
"I tried booking for camp accommodation this year but couldn't find any for less than SR 4,000," said Adhwan Meshbab, a Saudi pilgrim.
Many squatters come to Mina with beds, food and small tents. They remove the fences that were put to organize the pedestrian movement.
Others sneak into the holy sites in the beginning of Haj season to bury gas-cylinder underground that they will dig up and use when they return.
One who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he entered Mina seven days before the season began while there were still no security forces to check on pilgrims. An owner of a Haj company said the problem of pilgrims squatting on streets will go on unless Haj officials close the markets all over Mina.

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