‘Don’t be a Victim’, Council warns Hajj pilgrims

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Trading Standards to target corrupt tour operators who ‘prey’ on British Muslims

BRITISH Muslims in Birmingham who are planning their Hajj pilgrim later this year are being urged not to fall victim to unscrupulous tour operators.

Birmingham City Council’s Trading Standards have revealed they receive a significant number of complaints each year from pilgrims who have travelled to Saudi Arabia on package deals only to find meals, accommodation and travel arrangements turn out to be either of inferior quality to those advertised, or in some cases don’t exist at all.

The cost for the Hajj pilgrimage runs into its thousands and around 125,000 British Muslims who make the journey save for years in order to undergo the once-in-a-lifetime trip.

Councillor Neil Eustace, Chair of the Public Protection Committee, for Birmingham City Council said all air tour operators were required by law to be licensed and urged pilgrims to look at information provided on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website before booking their pilgrimage.

He added Trading Standards would be visiting Hajj tour operators in Birmingham in the coming weeks to “ensure they are fully aware of their legal obligations.”

“It is a disgrace that these rogue travel agents are preying on vulnerable people at such an important time in their lives and we will do everything we can to protect these travellers,” he said. 

“Saudi government regulations stipulate that British pilgrims performing Umrah and Hajj can only travel with UK travel agencies accredited with the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia. Our advice to anyone contemplating making the Hajj is that they carefully consider the information provided on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website before booking their Hajj.  There are many legitimate tour operators providing this service, so if anything does go wrong there are agreed procedures and redress schemes available and we will be visiting local Hajj tour operators to ensure they are fully aware of their legal obligations.

“We also strongly urge pilgrims to take out adequate travel insurance in case they are unable to travel due to illness; otherwise they are personally responsible for the full cost of the Hajj package for their party, not the operator.”  

Trading Standards officials are working alongside the Association of British Hujjaj (Pilgrims) UK (ABH) to raise awareness of tour companies that operate unfair or illegal practices.

Khalid Pervez, General Secretary of ABH, said: “I welcome the initiative taken by Trading Standards to protect vulnerable, elderly and sick Hajj travellers who have been suffering from extreme exploitation and mental anguish at the hands of rogue tour operators.  It is vital that all Hajj tour and travel operators are made to comply with Package Travel Regulations 1992, which requires them to provide a written contract of the package detailing travel and accommodation to their clients, and that the tour operators must not supply any misleading information to pilgrims regarding travel, accommodation and other arrangements.”

This years Hajj pilgrimage is expected to fall between 25 – 30 November. In light of the Swine Flu epidemic this year, all pilgrims will also be required to obtain a seasonal flu vaccination certificate two weeks before applying for a visa to travel to Saudi Arabia.

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