MAKKAH, 9 October 2006 — Over 2,500 people have so far got lost in and around the Grand Mosque in Makkah since the start of Ramadan, according to statistics released by the Missing Persons’ Department at the massive prayer complex.
According to officials at the office, most of the people that get lost tend to be women, children and old men who have come to the Kingdom from abroad. Saudis make up the smallest percentage of people that are lost with Egyptians being the highest on the list.
With a view to dealing with the huge increase in lost persons during the Umrah season, officials from the General Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques Affairs and from the Ministry of Haj opened additional Missing Persons’ Offices at the beginning of Ramadan.
“In order to deal with the increase in people getting lost during Ramadan, we made all necessary preparations before the holy month and deployed workers to work shifts around the clock,” said Omar Al-Zahrani, an official from the Missing Persons’ Office.
Al-Zahrani added that there has been a 300 percent increase in the number of people the Missing Persons’ Offices have employed for Ramadan. “Two new offices were opened recently, one on the eastern side of the Grand Mosque and one on the western side. Both offices are working around the clock to serve lost pilgrims,” he added.
Presently there are five lost person’s offices at the Grand Mosque, of which the Ministry of Haj runs two and three are run by the Grand Mosque Security apparatus.
Al-Zahrani predicts that by the end of Ramadan up to 6,000 lost people would have gone through the Missing Persons’ Offices. “Ramadan is the main month in which people generally get lost. There are two types of lost people. The first consists of pilgrims that are lost temporarily and soon they find their families or go back to the tour group they have come to the Kingdom with. The second type consists of pilgrims that can’t return to their families because no one has come forward to find them. Such people are handled by the police who take the necessary action,” he said.
Most people generally get lost between Asr and Isha prayers. “Forty percent of the total numbers of people lost are children. Thirty-five percent are women and 25 percent are elderly people,” said Al-Zahrani.
“Women easily get lost when they end up splitting up from their husbands or male relatives when going to pray in the women sections of the Grand Mosque. There are other factors such as overcrowding inside the Holy Mosque. Pilgrims should try to remember the names of doors and try to get a feeling of where they are inside the prayer precinct,” said Al-Zahrani, adding, “The job would be easier if pilgrims specified a place inside the Holy Mosque to meet if they were to separate.”
Al-Zahrani believes that women generally get lost because stewards move them away from male prayer areas on to places designated for women. These women get separated from their families and end up losing their way.
“Most cases that occur in the Grand Mosque tend to happen on the ground floor level. Very few people get lost outside in the courtyards. When somebody gets lost, we immediately take his or her name, nationality and a detailed description of the person’s face and clothing and pass the information onto officials inside the Grand Mosque via walkie-talkies,” said the official.
Al-Zahrani said that the Missing Persons’ Office works in coordination with security guards and police officers at the Grand Mosque who work round the clock.
Mohsin Awad, an Egyptian pilgrim, said that he was separated from his wife after performing Umrah because of the overcrowding. “I found her after going to the place which we had specified to meet at if we were to get lost. Not many people that come from abroad are familiar with the Grand Mosque. If this technique was applied, then the number of lost pilgrims would sharply drop.”