We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Extend Support to British Muslim Pilgrims to the Hajj & Umrah from exploitation and oppression from UK Tour Operators. More details
Tuesday 19 August 2008
Click here to read the Governments response to our petition
Did you sign the petition? See the list here
09 July 2008
We received a petition asking:
“We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to extend Support to British Muslim Pilgrims to the Hajj & Umrah from exploitation and oppression from UK Tour Operators.”
Details of Petition:
“The British Government to setup a Special Hajj Committee to address issues affecting over 50,000 Pilgrims each year. For a number of years British Pilgrims have been subject to exploitation from UK Tour Operators, and more so in the Hajj season of 2006/07- e.g: 1) Hajj Visa’s sold at premium prices when in fact they were FREE. 2) Blacklisted Tour Operators duped Pilgrims out of money . They then became elusive and abandoned the pilgrims leaving out of pocket and unable to arrange their documentation in time for their Hajj journey. 3) Tour Operators not fulfilling their promises and obligations to the Pilgrims. Unite with the Council of British Haji’s (Pilgrims) and together we can SHAPE the future of Hajj and Umrah Travel. Please Sign this petition. The Hajj not only brings spiritual enlightenment but a better understanding of the religion of Islam making the pilgrim a model citizen ready to contribute to the multi-faith society and communities they live in. The Hajj is one of the 5 Pillars of Islam.”
The Government’s Response
The Government takes very seriously the problems experienced by British pilgrims at the hands of disreputable Hajj travel organiser.
The Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) has responsibility for package travel consumer law. Until early 2007 this was an issue about which BERR and local authority Trading Standards departments had received few complaints.
Since it was brought more directly to their attention by, among others, the Council of British Hajis, officials from BERR have been meeting regularly as part of a cross-Government group, including the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG), the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), and the Local Authorities Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services (LACORS), representing Trading Standards.
Hajj trip organisers are subject to Regulations on Package Travel and Air Tour Organising, and to laws covering fraud and deception. Enforcement activity is generally driven by consumer complaints and it seemed that in the case of Hajj pilgrims only a few who had suffered at the hands of these tour operators were bringing it to the attention of the relevant authorities. It was recognised therefore that a key to improving the situation lay with better consumer awareness of their rights and what to do when things go wrong.
In the past 18 months BERR has been active in raising the profile of this issue. The Minister for consumers, Gareth Thomas, wrote to all Members of Parliament in November 2007 asking them to make contact with their local mosques and Muslim community groups with a view to helping people to appreciate that they do have rights and to understand where to direct any complaints they may have.
He also published a press release which was aimed at pilgrims considering booking a Hajj trip. This resulted in some good media coverage on both television and radio. A number of articles also appeared in local newspapers.
In addition, BERR also produced two information leaflets: one for pilgrims thinking of booking a Hajj trip and one aimed at Hajj travel organisers.
There are indications that the message is getting through about who to complain to, for example Luton trading standards received numerous complaints concerning a company that left many of their customers in the lurch in the days before they were due to travel. The company concerned held an ATOL and we understand that customers obtained a full refund of monies paid.
This year BERR will continue to raise awareness with a further publicity push in the autumn. It also intends to arrange some regional events to highlight these issues with local communities.
As well as raising awareness for pilgrims, as a part of this year’s strategy, BERR has also engaged with tour operators. Gareth Thomas recently hosted a summit for operators attended by the Council of British Hajis. The event was an opportunity to highlight the responsibilities of Hajj travel organisers and to provide them with an opportunity to discuss their concerns and feedback to Government their views on how improvements in the sector can be achieved.
The Government understands that many operators encounter problems with visa allocation and other issues “on the ground” in Saudi. These are matters which the UK Government has little prospect of influencing. However, we encourage operators to manage pilgrims’ expectations better, making it clear that elements of their arrangements may be subject to change because of the particular circumstances under which travel to Hajj is undertaken.
The Package Travel Regulations call for operators not to mislead consumers over details such as accommodation and it is important that operators should, as far as possible, take into account the fact that accommodation ratings and standards may not be the same in Saudi as in the UK.
Furthermore, we encourage organisations, including the Council of British Hajis, to advise those with whom they correspond to bring all cases of wrong-doing by Hajj tour organisers to the attention of their local Authority Trading Standards Department. Any accusations or threats of dire consequences or bullying where a consumer has suggested they might bring these cases to the attention of the authorities should be brought to the attention of the police.