Every year, millions of Muslims travel to the cities of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia to make their pilgrimage to these holy cities. In the past, Shia pilgrims have faced targeted discrimination by Saudi law enforcement agents, such as unwarranted searches, summons, imprisonment, and general harassment. Shia pilgrims are also at risk of being targets of violent acts by other pilgrims, therefore Shia Rights Watch urges vigilance when traveling this year.
Each Hajj season, numerous complaints are filed by Shia Muslims, particularly clerics, of negative treatment received while participating in the Hajj pilgrimage. Reports have been received of lengthy detainment upon arrival at the airport, incidents of sexual harassment, unreasonable stop and search tactics, and other measures of individual discrimination.
With the Hajj travel season approaching, Shia Rights Watch urges Shia pilgrims to make themselves aware of potential dangers while participating in Hajj and to take extra precautionary measures to ensure preparedness and to minimize any difficulties that may be encountered once in Saudi Arabia. The following is a list of recommended practices while enjoying the pilgrimage and suggestions for what to do if faced with harassment or other types of violations while traveling:
- Make two copies of your passport, including pages stamped with Saudi visas, and keep one on your person at all times, and the other safe at home while you travel
- Keep your Hajj permits and Saudi-issued identification cards on you at all times; keep copies stored in a separate location
- Carry a copy of and memorize the contact information for your country’s embassy in Saudi Arabia
- Have an emergency contact and, when possible, keep your emergency contact updated with changes to your daily itinerary so that someone always knows your whereabouts
- Always carry contact information for:
- your hotel
- others traveling in your group
- your emergency contact (someone not traveling with you)
- your travel agent and/or tour guide
- If you lose any of your travel documents, or experience any type of harassment, contact your embassy immediately to report the incident
- In the event of an emergency, use social media to alert friends and family of your status
- Familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations of Hajj to prevent avoidable errors (example: no photos are allowed at the Holy Mosque at Mecca or at the Prophet’s Mosque at Medina)
- Use the hashtag #Hajj2018 when sharing your experience on social media
- For U.S. travelers, enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP, https://step.state.gov/step/) to receive security messages and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.
Before traveling, remember to thoroughly read and adhere to all advice issued by your country of origin. Hajj travel advisories and additional information can typically be located on your country’s official website. In the event difficulties are encountered while participating in the pilgrimage, always contact your home country’s embassy and relevant authorities first, but also remember that you may contact your trusted SRW representative to receive additional advocacy support.
SRW encourages the development of pilgrim enrollment systems by which citizens may register their travels. Through support for thier citizens, states can create lines of communication across the globe with the aim of reducing human rights violations.
SRW urges the Saudi authorities to take care to serve and protect all pilgrims during this Hajj season, regardless of their political or theological differences. Unity and human dignity should be the central focus during Hajj, and SRW wishes everyone a holy and safe pilgrimage.