The governor of Saudi Arabia's Mecca region Prince Khalid Al-Faisal revealed that over 329,000 people were banned from entering the country to perform Hajj this year. The pilgrims who were turned down tried to enter the holy city illegally, without the possession of a Hajj permit.
Al-Faisal, also the chairman of the Supreme Hajj Committee, said that over 144,000 vehicles without permits were stopped from entering the city, as well as 15 drivers who helped transporting pilgrims into the kingdom illegally.
Saudi Arabia takes similar measures during Hajj every year in order to prevent congestion and to ensure a "safe and successful" pilgrimage season.
This year, the kingdom identified one of the issues causing people to be not allowed in to be "bogus Hajj offices" that were selling fake permits. In response, authorities have shut down 181 of these illegal businesses.
In his statement, the prince also addressed news that Qatari officials were blocking webpages used to help their nationals apply for Hajj. He explained that the kingdom has provided a new link for Qataris to apply through.
"Pilgrims are here for Hajj and worship. Let them dedicate themselves to worship and leave the other things. They'll be welcomed and served by Saudis," the governor added.
Not the first time illegal pilgrims are turned away
Saudi authorities designate a specific number of Hajj permits to countries around the world every year. If a person is not granted a permit to perform Hajj in a specific season, they can reapply for the year after.
However, every year, people are caught trying to perform the pilgrimage without the necessary paper work and permits. Anyone found not holding a permit is turned back and deported from the country.
All Hajj regulations are strictly enforced by authorities since it's crucial for them to keep track of the number of pilgrims entering the city. Without such tracking, medical, logistic, and security teams will not be able to secure the safety of millions of pilgrims.
In 2017, Hajj authorities in Saudi Arabia deported around 400,000 illegal pilgrims who tried to enter Mecca without holding pilgrimage permits.
At the time, the pilgrims tried to enter the city through its land borders. They were stopped and sent back to checkpoints.
In response to the rise in illegal pilgrim entrances recorded in 2017, Saudi officials announced that those found without permits will not only face deportation but also stand to face a 10-year ban from entering the kingdom.