18/01/2021

Mecca’s migrants face economic uncertainty as religious tourism continues to be suspended | Migrant-Rights.org

Saudi Arabia saw more than 19 million pilgrims for Umrah in 2019 and 2.5 million pilgrims for Hajj, the
annual religious pilgrimage that is mandatory for all nancially- and physically-able Muslims at least
once in their lives. Together, they contribute approximately USD12 billion – 7% of the total GDP – and
are the primary source of income to many of the city's 1.9 million inhabitants, almost half of whom are
migrants like Tarek.
“In the past three years or so, work has been getting increasingly worse and the cost of living higher, but
nothing could have prepared any of us for what the virus did,” he says.
To control the spread of Covid-19, Saudi Arabia took unprecedented measures to suspend religious
tourism in late February, and in April restricted all entries to the Grand Mosque.
Since then, while other cities have uctuated between stricter and more permissive curfews, Mecca has
consistently remained under lockdown.
“Ramadan is one the most important months in my life – not just as a Muslim, but as the main provider
for my family,” says Tarek. “Usually, Ramadan is such a busy time here and I make more money than I
would in three months combined but this time was a nightmare.”
About 43% of Umrah pilgrims visit Saudi Arabia during the Islamic months of Rajab, Shaban, and
Ramadan, making them the busiest seasons outside of Hajj for those relying on the pilgrim economy.
This year Ramadan took place between April and May and, for the rst time in recent history, saw no
visitors to the city.
“I am not someone who likes to complain about his life, I am very blessed and I have pride in being a
self-reliant man,” says Tarek. “But for the rst time in my life, in the past few weeks I have had little
more than our and water to live on and I am basically surviving on what people have given out of their
goodwill during Ramadan.”
Tarek hopes circumstances get better soon otherwise, he will consider moving back to Pakistan.

“... rst time in my life, in the past few weeks I have had little more than our and water to live
on and I am basically surviving on what people have given out of their goodwill during
Ramadan.”
Many migrants have been seeking repatriation in these times of uncertainty. Razak F., a Bangladeshi
migrant who has been working at a corner store for the past seven years in a neighbourhood that is
popular amongst South Asian, is one of them.
“I have requested the consulate to send me back as I have not been paid for two months and will
probably not get paid in June either. If my family back home has to be hungry no matter the
circumstances, I might as well be with them,” he says. “Things were already really bad the past few
years and I was getting paid some months and some months I was not, but now I know it is only going
to get worse business-wise.”
Some are now more hopeful since restrictions were li ed on 21 June across the country, including in
Mecca.

https://www.migrant-rights.org/2020/06/meccas-migrants-face-economic-uncertainty-as-religious-tourism-continues-to-be-suspended/

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