Time for the government to solve problems related to Hajj pilgrimage
Although the conflict between Thailand and Saudi Arabia over the controversial appointment of Pol Lt-Gen Somkid Boonthanom as the assistant police chief has been resolved with the police officer volunteering to decline the post and visas have been issued by the Saudi embassy for the Thai pilgrims, there are still many other problems that the pilgrims are likely to face especially when their pilgrimage was arranged by private tour companies.
One of the problems which has received most complaints from the pilgrims is that some of the tour companies do not make advance bookings for the air tickets from Bangkok to Saudi Arabia. The companies would buy tickets at Suvarnabhumi airport which are often cheaper and if no tickets are available, the pilgrims will have to wait a couple of days until tickets are available. And this means they will have to pay for lodgings or they will have to be lodged at mosques in Bangkok.
Sometimes when the pilgrims arrived in Mecca, they were not taken to the shelters pre-arranged shelters, but to other shelters which are cheaper and more crowded.
Under the Saudi regulations, the shelters for the pilgrims must be located within 500 metre radius from the al-Haram grand masjid or mosque. The shelter must be equipped with elevators, air –conditioning, water and electricity. And each room must accommodate a maximum of four people.
In reality however, it has been alleged that some unscrupulous tour companies had conspired with corrupt religious affairs officials sent by the Thai government to Mecca to look after the Thai pilgrims to take advantage of the pilgrims. The rooms pre-arranged for the Thai pilgrims were rented out to pilgrims from other countries to make extra profits, it was alleged.
Mr Karim Rayeekan, a pilgrim from Pattani, admitted that he paid 300,000 baht to buy package tour to Mecca for him and his wife. The package included return air tickets for two, lodging and food for the 45 days stay in Mecca for the pilgrimage.
Karim, however, complained that the tour company did not give any details about the package tour in the contract which, he thought, amounted to taking advantage of the pilgrims.
“If possible, I wish that the government set up a permanent Hajj affairs office to oversee the Hajj pilgrimage for Thai pilgrims,” he said, adding that during his stay in Mecca last year he did not see any Thai officials visiting Thai pilgrims.
Karim said he felt the Thai government did not attach much importance to the Hajj pilgrimage although many pilgrims from Thailand travel to Mecca each year for the Hajj.
Another veteran pilgrim, Mr Asari bin Abdulloh said he felt pilgrims from other countries were better treated by their governments than the Thai pilgrims.
Aryuding Daehey Lee-ah, a veteran pilgrim and a religious teacher, said that the real problem did not come from the Saudi side because they have all the set rules which were strictly implemented. The problem, he noted, stemmed from the Thai side, particularly from the tour companies which arranged for the pilgrimage because they were not properly controlled and often took advantage of the pilgrims.