A total of 20,534 pilgrims on their way to the holy sites without Haj permits were turned away at a number of checkpoints, said Brig. Ayed Al-Harbi, Commander of the Passports Department (Haj).
The official said out of the 20,534 people, over 1,600 were trying to sneak into the holy sites without ihram (the cloth all pilgrims must wear before performing Haj or Umrah) while 20 were carrying forged papers.
One of the violating pilgrims was disguised as a woman, Brig. Al-Harbi said.
He said 75 Saudi and foreign drivers were caught trying to smuggle in pilgrims without the necessary paperwork.
He added: “The campaign resulted in the nabbing of 281 overstayers, 207 foreigners who infiltrated through the borders, 43 with forged iqamas (residence permits) and 200 foreigners who violated the Kingdom’s rules and regulations regarding residence and work.”
He revealed eight buses were caught carrying Saudis and foreigners proceeding to Makkah without Haj permits and wearing plain clothes over their ihram.
Foreign drivers of the buses, he said, were handed over to immigration authorities for deportation.
Al-Harbi said the Saudi owners of the vehicles would be subject to harsh punishment including fines and imprisonment.
He added: “Whoever is caught transporting illegal pilgrims will be punished.”
Meanwhile, brokers who smuggle pilgrims to Makkah and the holy sites through mountains, valleys and difficult terrain were noticeably on the rise this year.
The smugglers, usually driving four-wheel-drive cars, would agree with pilgrims to meet them at certain places away from the glare of police and security forces.
Several pilgrims told Okaz/Saudi Gazette that the high Haj charges have forced them to resort to these brokers.
One of the brokers, who did not want his identity revealed, said he knew his work was illegal but he had no other option as he had to feed his family. He said his rate is SR500 per head and will increase to more than SR1,000 as the Haj nears. Saudi Gazette