During the annual Muslim pilgrimage, commonly known as the hajj, human smuggling becomes a thriving enterprise around the holy city of Mecca.
People who intend to enter Mecca to perform the hajj are required to have special permits to perform the ritual. Many people without a hajj license, including expats working in Saudi Arabia or Saudi citizens, attempt to enter Mecca every year perform the hajj.
Yehya, a would-be pilgrim, paid 2,000 Saudi rials ($533) to be smuggled from the south of kingdom to Mecca to work and perform the hajj.
The journey to the holy city took him four days inside a van carrying 18 people. Smuggle vehicles often take dirt roads to avoid police checkpoints in main roads.
Yehya said when they reached al-Sharae, which is the eastern gate of Mecca, they stopped for break and to pay money to the smuggler.
Several areas around Mecca, including some taxi stations, have turned into main grounds for negotiating deals between smugglers and would-be pilgrims. Smugglers charge between 200 and 1,000 Saudi rials ($53 and $260), according to the daily Aleqtisadia newspaper.
Khaled Al-Shahri, a smuggler, said the smuggling charges were “justified,” especially for irregular pilgrims, because smuggling trips take more than six hours and because of the difficult and dangerous routes they take.