A number of pilgrims have complained about the black market for wheelchairs inside the Grand Mosque in Mecca.
The Presidency for the Holy Mosques Affairs has made available more than 12,000 wheelchairs for the use of elderly and disabled pilgrims free of charge, but many people told Al-Madinah daily that it was hard get hold of one because of the huge rush of pilgrims.
Mohsen Asiri said he went to the Grand Mosque on Wednesday and wanted to get a free wheelchair for his mother.
“The line for the free wheelchair was very long and there weren’t a lot of wheelchairs available. So I went to Al-Safa where they usually have wheelchairs for rent. The guy asked for SR500 to take my mother for Sa’i (the ritual walk between the mounts of Safaa and Marwa as part of the pilgrimage). The price is exorbitant but I had to paid because I was desperate,” said Asiri.
Ahmad Al-Rabghi said he asked for a wheelchair for Sa’i and the guy wanted me to pay SR200 for his service.
“I told the man the official price is fixed and it is SR50. The guy said I would be lucky to find a price like that. I went and informed a nearby policeman and he said I should report to the inspectors of the General Presidency of the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques,” said Al-Rabghi.
He added he went to look for a representative from the presidency but I couldn’t find anyone.
“It was around Maghreb prayer. I returned to the policeman saying I did not find anyone. Another man told me that the wheelchair handlers always disappear during peak time. I had to pay SR200 because there was no one to control the black market,” said Al-Rabghi.
He called on the presidency to intervene and prevent people from offering wheelchair services at such high prices.
“The presidency could have appointed inspectors to arrest workers who offer their services for an unregulated price. There should be penalties for charging pilgrims with unreasonable prices,” said Al-Rabghi.
Hussain Al-Sibyani said the wheelchair area is highly messy and has all kinds of wheelchairs for the use of pilgrims.
“There are free wheelchairs and there are wheelchairs for rent, and the presidency has set a fixed rental but the handlers would often increase the rate. And there are wheelchairs offered by illegal expatriates who exploit the huge crowds of worshippers during Ramadan,” said Al-Sibyani.
He said the wheelchairs in the Grand Mosque have become a messy scene that needs to be regulated.
“There are African women who pretend to be pilgrims on the wheelchair, but once they spot a pilgrim who needs the wheelchair they get up to offer it to them. Then their sons would come along to push the pilgrims,” said Al-Sibyani.