Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Post-Haj Russian market attracts many in Makkah

Over 20,000 Russians went for hajj this year, down from 26,000 last year due to swine flu fear. Eight companies were responsible for the organization of the hajj, two – in Moscow, two – in Dagestan, as well as in Tatarstan, Ingushetia, Chechnya and the Coordination Centre of North Caucasus Muslim

Around 80 percent of pilgrims were from the North Caucasus. The number of those who traveled to Saudi Arabia by plane increase – 50 percent this year. Saudi Arabia’s quota issued to Russia this year had been fully used.

Post-Haj Russian market attracts many in Makkah
Anwar Al-Sayed | Arab News

MAKKAH: For some pilgrims, especially those coming from the Russian Federation and Central Asia, the Haj doesn’t end after the stoning of the Satan, but continues afterward with the annual tradition of selling goods they brought to help pay for their journey of a lifetime.

Pilgrims, mostly from Russia and former Russian states, have set up more than 500 stalls in Kudai, a car park about five minutes drive from the Grand Mosque, where they are selling various products including electrical appliances, tape recorders, bedding, utensils, cookware, fashion accessories, toys, clothes and handicrafts. One can also find the occasional pistol, sword or knife on display.

Not long after the fall of the USSR, one used to be able to find a great deal of old Russian military equipment — from army clothing to night vision goggles. But today much of that has been replaced with the more typical products found in any street bazaar.

Occasionally, however, one can find merchants selling interesting items, like relatively inexpensive caviar and Central Asian hand woven rugs.

Because one never know what one might find, Makkah’s after-Haj markets are popular with the residents and people in nearby areas. They are often crowded with shoppers looking for a good deal, or simply browsing for something interesting.

Some buyers have publicized these markets on the Internet to attract more interested customers. “I ask every one not to miss these markets which are selling various products at reasonable prices,” one of them wrote on his site.

The products on sale also include leather works and verses of the Holy Qur’an written in beautiful Andalusian calligraphy using golden threads.

“Despite the spaciousness of the Kudai area, it is very difficult to find a place to display ones products because of the crowd and the competition among peddlers,” said one shopper from Makkah.

The open-air markets continue for about a month after Haj. They open daily in the mornings and the evenings. Some market analysts estimated the daily revenues of the Kudai market to be more than SR500,000.

“These Russians will make about SR15 million during the month,” said the resident. Local officials don’t seem to mind. On the contrary, the municipality cooperates with them to organize their locations in such a way as not to impede traffic or make it difficult for pedestrians to walk.

The Kudai parking lot is connected to the Grand Mosque by a tunnel and is used as an amusement park for the residents of Makkah during their leisure time because it is replete with green space.

The place also has a station for the distribution of Zamzam water where people come to take quantities of the blessed water and also to shop at the market.

Demand for expat workers rises in GCC

Demand for expatriate workers continues to rise in the Gulf, mainly as a result of construction activity in Saudi Arabia, according to a study by the India-based think tank Centre for Development Studies (CDS).

Speaking to Emirates Business yesterday, S Irudaya Rajan said this is despite the global crisis and job losses. Saudi Arabia alone witnessed an increase of 60,000 workers from India in 2009.

"Except for a 35 per cent fall in numbers from India, the flows in 2009 are comparable to those in 2008. This is especially true in the case of Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal," said Rajan.

According to the study, migrant workers remittances to India was at $52bn (Dh191bn) in 2008 and estimates show that remittances had, in fact, increased by three to 25 per cent in 2009 in the South Asian countries.

Rajan and D Narayana of CDS yesterday presented the findings of the study in Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala and said despite the crisis and job losses the demand for expatriate workers continues to grow in the Gulf as is evident from the outflows of migrant workers from South Asia.

"The impact of the global crisis on the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) economies has been analysed, in terms of sectors affected and changes in GDP growth and employment of expatriate labourers," said Rajan.

Study teams from the CDS visited six GCC countries and Malaysia to interview labourers as well as employers in various sectors.

The study was funded by the Asian Development Bank, the overseas Indian affairs ministry, the central government and the Kerala state government's Department of Non-Resident Keralite Affairs.

The study revealed that about 264,000 people from South Asia have lost jobs in the Middle East on account of the global meltdown.

"It was very difficult to verify the accuracy of numbers, especially from India," said Rajan.

"The numbers mentioned by Indian ministers ranged between 50,000 and 500,000. An estimate of return of migrants to Kerala arrived at by the Centre for Development Studies, based on a revisit of the emigrants and return emigrants of their 2008 Migration Survey, is around 61,000 for Kerala," said the report.

Applying the methodology of the Kerala Resurvey to South Asia as a whole the return emigrants from the Gulf are estimated to be 264,000. "These estimates are far lower than the official predictions because migrants would somehow struggle to stay back and earn to repay the debt incurred to pay for the cost of migration. Hence, the loss of employment does not lead to an immediate return as they would be hunting for various alternatives," he said.

For Kerala the numbers who lost jobs but continuing to stay in Gulf and those returning are estimated to be 39,000 and 61,000 respectively; and for South Asia the corresponding numbers are 170,000 and 264,000 respectively. One estimate, the report says, has put the composition of Indian expatriates in the UAE as 50 per cent unskilled workers, 25 per cent semi-skilled and 25 per cent skilled professionals.

The survey among return emigrants in South Asia who have lost their jobs showed that 73 per cent of them remained unemployed one month after return, but the proportion declined to 42 per cent at the time of the survey. Among the employed 37 per cent managed to find regular employment while 40 per cent did casual labour and another eight per cent contract work.

On the measures adopted by governments of the countries of origin and destination to mitigate the hardships faced by the workers losing jobs it said: "The Government of Nepal has announced a plan to meet the cost of migration of those who lost jobs and returned. The Government of the Indian state of Kerala has announced a rehabilitation package for the Gulf returnees. Some GCC countries have slightly relaxed the visa conditions allowing expatriate workers to look for alternate jobs.

"The sponsorship condition has also been relaxed in some cases," said the report.