How to stay scam-free and healthy during Hajj

The council is helping Tower Hamlets residents to stay scam aware and healthy while taking part in Hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca.

As people in the borough plan their visit to the Kaaba, in Mecca, Saudia Arabia, the council is issuing advice on avoiding scam booking and preventing illness while abroad.

It’s common for Hajj travel agents to book up quickly – and it’s reported this year some have already sold out. Therefore, it’s imperative that residents ensure they are booking through reputable organisations that are registered with a trade organisation such as ABTA or IATA and hold an Air Travel Organiser’s License. This can be checked by visiting www.caa.co.uk.

The Trading Standards team at the council are being vigilant to spot any agents taking advantage. Complaints previously made by Tower Hamlets residents include people arriving in Saudi Arabia to find different accommodation than originally agreed, hotels far from Kaaba, flights being provided outside of the five-day pilgrimage period – which this year runs from Sunday 19 August until Friday 24 August - and in extreme cases, agents disappearing with people’s money.

Anyone making the journey is also advised to visit their GP to ensure their vaccinations are up to date. The Health and Safety team at the council have shared simple steps to prevent falling unwell while abroad, which includes washing hands before and after preparing food, drinking bottled/treated water and avoiding contact with animals.

There is currently a low risk to travellers of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which has flu-like symptoms. It’s believed that it can be caught by camels and passed from person-to-person. Advice issued by Public Health England to avoid contracting MERS is to wash hands regularly, avoid close contact with sick people and sick animals, avoid contact with camels and avoid consuming raw camel milk or camel products.  The use of disposable masks, where appropriate, may also be helpful. 

Officers will be visiting mosques from Friday 13 July until Friday 10 August to offer additional advice and information after Jummah prayers. Anyone with questions or concerns can find them at the following venues:

  • Friday 13 July – Bow Muslim Community Centre, 515 Roman Road.
  • Friday 20 July – East London Mosque and London Muslim Centre, Whitechapel Road.
  • Friday 27 July – Mile End Bengali Muslim Association, 99 Hamlets Way.
  • Friday 3 August – Shoreditch Masjid Trust, 53-55 Redchurch Street.
  • Friday 10 August – Wapping Bengali Association Noorani Masjid and Cultural Centre, Tench Street.

 John Biggs, Mayor of Tower Hamlets, said: “It’s important our residents making this journey do so safely to ensure they can enjoy their pilgrimage. We have many legitimate travel agents in our borough; however there are a small number of unscrupulous agents who would attempt to exploit people’s religious devotion. I would encourage anyone booking their trip to carry out the appropriate checks and remain vigilant.”

Cllr David Edgar, Lead Cabinet Member for Environment, added: “Our residents put trust in agents helping people to plan their trip to Mecca and it’s imperative that anyone taking advantage of this trust are reported to the Trading Standards team.”

Cllr Denise Jones, Lead Cabinet Member for Adults, Health and Wellbeing, said: “The health of our residents is of the upmost importance to us and is imperative to ensure those travelling to Mecca can stay safe and enjoy their experience.”

Anyone with concerns about health or travel issues for Hajj can call 020 7364 5000 or email healthandsafety@towerhamlets.gov.uk

For further information on Public Health England’s advice for travelling to Saudi Arabia visit: www.gov.uk/phe     

Anyone with concerns about Hajj agents can call 0207 264 5000 or email trading.standards@towerhamlets.gov.uk  

Posted on Thursday 19th July 2018