New Saudi Visa System Leaves Thousands of Indian Haj Pilgrims Without Visas

September 11th 2014 / News

Air_india_b747-400_vt-esm_lands_arpThousands of Indian Hajis travelling to Saudi Arabia through private tour operators have been denied visas by the Saudi embassy in Delhi because their new scanners are unable to read the data in Indian passports, the Times of India reported.

The pilgrims have each paid around 225,000 rupees for accommodation, food and Saudi tour guides known as muallims. The newspaper reported that the passports were rejected despite containing bar codes issued by the Saudi Ministry of Haj after full payment of costs.

Haj flights from India began leaving on 27 August. This year around 36,000 Indian pilgrims will be performing Haj through private tour operators while 100,020 will perform the pilgrimage through the Indian government’s Haj Committee.

The passports of around 25,000 pilgrims travelling through the Haj Committee were initially rejected but the issue was resolved after the committee’s CEO approached India’s foreign minister who raised the issue with the Saudi embassy.

The problem, according to the All India Haj Umrah Tour Organisers Association, has disrupted the plans of entire families. “Women pilgrims have to be accompanied by close relatives and minors and elderly, too, cannot travel alone if the visas of their relatives are not issued,” said Afzal Patel of Atlas Tours and Travels.

City garment trader Iqbal Shekhani is scheduled, along with four members of his family, to travel on 7 September. “My travel agent tells me that while my wife, daughter, daughter-in-law and son have got visas, my passport has been rejected. I have travelled to the US, UK and many other countries on the same passport which was issued in 2009. Even if I apply for another passport … I will not be able to travel on 7 September and no one can guarantee if the scanner at the embassy will accept the data fed in the new passport. The embassy should sort it out,” he said.

A tour operator said, “If the embassy can sort out the problems faced by pilgrims travelling through the Haj Committee, it can do so for the pilgrims travelling through us.”

 


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