Pilgrim Welfare and the UK Government
The British Hajj Delegation
After a period of lobbying by British Muslim community organisations, 2000 saw the first Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) supported British Hajj Delegation (BHD). This was a unique development among Western nations.
The BHD provided consular support and volunteer British Muslim doctors on the ground during the pilgrimage. It was led initially by Lord Ahmed of Rotherham, patron of the Association of British Hujjaj (ABH), a Birmingham-based charity, with Sir Iqbal Sacranie of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) alongside.
Association of British Hujjaj was established in 1997 and ’98. ... And our aim was to education Muslims before they go for Hajj and Umrah, and second objective was to negotiate with British government ... That’s how we started ABH, and following this negotiation after twelve months a Hajj delegation would be coming into shape, and female, male doctors, Foreign Office staff, counsellors.
From Health at Hajj to Hajj Fraud
The BHD was subsequently led for several years by Lord Adam Patel of Blackburn until medical support was withdrawn by the FCO in 2010. During this period a new 'second generation' pilgrim welfare organisation also emerged in Bolton, the Council of British Hajjis (CBH).
However, while advising pilgrims about health during Hajj has remained high on the agenda of both the CBH and the ABH, it is so-called "Hajj fraud" that currently commands most public attention.
When I was out there I saw things from a different perspective... to see people who were almost being exploited in some respects by tour operators who weren’t delivering their promises. People were having a whinge or a moan out there during the days of Hajj.
Regulating the Hajj and Umrah Industry
Because the selling of Hajj packages often involves sub-agents and touts some pilgrims don't necessarily speak directly to the approved tour operators they are buying from. But if pilgrims are then let down in any way they can be reluctant to complain.
Although Hajj represents many unique challenges for package organisers, the sector has been slow to self-regulate. In partnership with stakeholders such as the ABH and the CBH, agencies such as Trading Standards in Birmingham and the City of London Police are taking a lead on industry problems.
Trading Standard and the police have been quite successful to prosecute certain rogue operators. One person a couple of years ago at the last minute ran away from the country with about 100 people’s money. The Met police worked very closely with their counterparts and the man was arrested from Daca, brought back to the books, and serving prison.