By Dr. Mozammel Haque
There was a briefing on the UK Hajj delegation in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) on Thursday, 18th of January 2007. Foreign Minister Dr. Kim Howells Lord Adam Patel and Dr. Mohiudin were present. After the briefing, Lord Patel gave an interview with me about this year Hajj. This was his seventh year Hajj consecutively on behalf of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Lord Patel, chairman of the British Hajj Delegation and the British Hajj Committee appointed by the FCO, said three important developments took place during this year's Hajj.
"For the first time, I have seen a tremendous amount of changes took place at Jamarat or on the way to stoning. There were no traders. No people were allowed to sit or sleep or wait there. It was strictly one-way traffic. Military presence was there and they were guiding the people. Alhamdo Lillah. Even the bridge on Jamarat is newly built. It is very wide and at Jamarat where we were stoning is also very wide. Even a child could at ease stone the devils. So there was no stampede whatsoever," said Lord Patel of Blackburn.
But there was a new problem confronted by the Hujjaj this year. Lord Patel received hundreds of complaints against the Tour Operators from the United Kingdom other places. "When I investigated them it seemed that they have become the day time robbers. Believe it or not, they have become the day time robbers. They don't care for the Hajjis. Some of them have charged L3, 000/- pounds; some of them have charged L4, 000/- pounds. But still they did not give the services what they promised to the guests of Allah the Almighty. I don't think they deserved to be Tour Operators," said Lord Patel.
Lord Patel has complained to the Saudi Ministry of Hajj. Lord Patel said, "The Saudi Ministry of Hajj is ready to give us the authority to chuck them out. We are discussing with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office whether they are ready to accept this authority/responsibility or not. Not only that we are also advocating with the British Government to bring some sort of bill so that we can control them. I also advise the British Hajjis to ask the tour operators whether they are members of IATA or not. If they are members of the IATA, then they can take their cases to them. Not only that, whatever the services the Tour Operators promised to offer, the Hujjaj must take in writing with their handwriting or with their signatures or they must enter into a contract. If they have got a contract, then they can take them to the civil court. But some of them have established private limited companies and they don't have any assets whatsoever. And for that particular reason, I think they should not be allowed to be member of the IATA."
Lord Patel also observed, "This is the worst problem we have ever faced. Even the Saudi authority chucked some of them out from the list in the past. But in England, they apply again under another name or brother's name or somebody else name, or they become the sub-contractor of one of the Yemeni Tour Operators in Saudi Arabia or some of them have become the tour operators under another tour operator companies existing in the United Kingdom."
The Leader of the British Hajj Delegation suggested, "I think both the Ministry of Hajj and the Hajj Establishments in Saudi Arabia and the British government should start ball rolling in controlling them in full so that they don't cheat or rob Hujjaj. We are negotiating with the British Government and the Foreign Office. The British Hajj Committee ought to have more powers so that we can control them."
Lord Patel has reported in his report and he thinks the Consul General Mr. Gerald Russell who is in Jeddah has also reported. Lord Patel said, "If I am not making mistakes I have heard Sir Gerald Cowper, the British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia has also reported. Because our British pilgrims did not only reported to me as a chairman of the British Hajj Committee but they also reported and made several phone calls to the Consul General in Jeddah and they had also phoned to Sir Gerald Cowper in Riyadh."
Speaking about the medical services provided by the British Hajj Delegation, Lord Patel said, "About 4,834 patients visited our surgery, majority of them were treated for viral infections but some of them had infection and they were diabetic patients too. So immediate treatment helps them; otherwise they would have developed gangrene on their legs or other parts which would have been amputated."
As soon as Lord Patel landed in Jeddah, British Consul General in Jeddah asked him to stay back in Jeddah. All the doctors accompanying him went direct to Makkah. Then Lord Patel, Consular General and some other staff went to visit those people who were involved in the accident and visited almost each and every one of them. Then they also went to Rabiq Hospital, about 150 kilometres from Jeddah towards Madina.
Lord Patel said, "We were absolutely delighted that the whole hospital was taking cent per cent care of them. Even in Jeddah, local people went almost every evening to see those people who were involved in accident, gave them whatever their needs were and so on and so forth. Even at Rabiq, there were no South Asians nearby but still the local people, Arabs, visited them almost every evening. This is a very good sign of humanity. They took care of them and also asked them whatever their needs and they were supplying them. Alhamdo Lillah, both the hospitals created a very homely environment for them; even our Foreign Office helped them in such a way that any other consular department of any other country ever helped them, especially three officers from the Foreign Office to look after or care them "
Lord Patel also informed another unique example of fullest cooperation between the Saudi and British government. Lord Patel said, "Three of the patients wanted to come back before the Hajj. We explained them to continue their Hajj. But unfortunately, they said they don't want to. So Sir Gerald Cowper discussed this matter with the Hajj Minister and other ministers of Saudi Arabia and they supplied air ambulance free of charge. This is a unique example that our government and the Saudi government give the fullest cooperation to each other. They need to be thanked not only by the British Muslims but also by the British government and our Committee also. We are going to write letters of thanks to all the departments which are concerned who helped them."
According to the Saudi Ministry of Hajj, about four million people have performed Hajj this year. 3.2 million from outside and 800,000 locals. "The exact figure of the Hajjis from Britain this year was between 23,500 and 24,000. We are talking about 24,000 from Britain but people of the British passport holders also came from other countries, so it would be about 28,000," said Lord Patel and added, "To go on the very first day after stoning to Makkah, you could have realized it was so heavily crowded. It took between four and five hours for Tawaf and Sai together. About four million Hajis was there this year."
Another important cooperation developed this year. "We have been invited by the Muslim staff from the French Embassy who arrived from Riyadh to Makkah and also officers from the German Embassy who also came from Riyadh to Makkah. We had lunch together. That was after we came back from Mina and it was in Makkah. We discussed how we can work together with their delegation in future."