A black market for wheelchairs has reportedly emerged in Makkah, where millions of pilgrims will visit Islam’s holiest site, the Grand Mosque.
Wheelchairs are distributed free of charge for those performing Umrah or Haj, but some pilgrims have claimed hawkers are convincing people to buy the wheelchairs and push a fake sick person to avoid queues.
Faisal Al Saadi told Saudi Gazette he had to pay SAR150 ($40) for a wheelchair he did not necessarily need but put his child in it.
“As I was entering the holy mosque, one vendor approached me and offered me a wheelchair. When I told him I do not have a disabled person with me, he advised me to get the wheelchair anyway because with it, the security guards would let me into the exclusive lanes at the upper levels where there is less crowding,” he was quoted as saying.
“He said everyone does that and they pretend they have a sick or disabled person with them.
"After finishing the Umrah rites, however, I tried to give the wheelchair back to the vendor but he was not seen anywhere. An officer told me these vendors vanish after they get hold of their money and go looking for other customers.
“Later, I discovered that these vendors grab wheelchairs, which are distributed free of cost, from anywhere in the Grand Mosque and rent them illegally to Umrah performers for high fees.”
An official in charge of monitoring activities inside the Grand Mosque, Nasir Mohammed Al Obaidi, said it was illegal to pretend to have an invalid to avoid the queues but it was difficult to monitor.
About 6 million people are expected to visit the Grand Mosque this year, including 400,000 during the holy month of Ramadan according to the latest Ministry of Haj figures.