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15.12.2007 General News

First batch of hajj pilgrims leave, more to follow

First batch of hajj pilgrims leave, more to follow

The first batch of this year's Hajj Pilgrims left Accra for Jeddah in the early hours of Saturday on board a chartered flight after a long wait at the Kotoka International Airport. The Tristar carrier took off at about 0308 hours.

Three more flights, including those arranged on the intervention of President John Agyekum Kufuor were expected to follow.

Some of the Pilgrims had become sceptical as time wore on and the hope of making the trip receded. One of those who were processed on Thursday night, told the GNA earlier in the day: "We were processed for boarding last night but after 12 hours we are still here with our boarding passes."

Now with the first batch of 295 Pilgrims of an estimated 2,700 airlifted, hope has returned to the Pilgrims, some of who had spent one week in the open along the road between the Aviation Social Centre and the Aviance Cargo Village at the Airport. At the airport to see off the first batch was Mr E.T Hamond, Deputy Minister of Interior.

The Government on Thursday announced it was stepping in to get stranded Ghanaian pilgrims airlifted to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj, one of the most important pillars of Islam.

Mr Andrew Awuni, Press Secretary to the President said the government signed a contract with a group of Germans to fly the pilgrims out on Friday morning. The chartered aircraft was expected Thursday night at 2200 hours and was expected to do three rotations, carrying 250 passengers on each trip.

Mr Awuni told the Presidential Press Corps that priority would be given to the 449 people who could not make the Hajj last year.

He said the Germans had given the assurance that they could get the Saudi Authorities to extend the deadline for the arrival of the Ghanaian pilgrims.

Should they succeed in doing this, the rotation contract with them would be extended.

In addition to the Germans, Mr Awuni said a deal had been struck with "Bin Sheikh Air-link" to also lift the pilgrims out. The Press Secretary said the Government was paying for the flight and that for now, the concern was to bring relief to the pilgrims and end the anxieties and uncertainties about the Hajj. President Kufuor, he said, has ordered an investigation to unravel the cause of the unfortunate situation that led to the pilgrims becoming stranded in Accra.

Poor organisation of the Hajj has become an annual ritual in the country.

At the cargo section of the Airport, where the pilgrims were waiting a few canopies have been erected. Ten movable toilets have been provided. Mr George Tetteh, cesspool tanker driver of the company which rented the facility, said he emptied them twice in a day.

Mr Mustapha Imoro, a pilgrim from Tamale, expressed his appreciation to President Kufuor for intervening, but said he should ensure that they left for Jeddah.

He suggested that Hajj pilgrims in the Northern Sector should be airlifted from Tamale direct instead of asking them to leave their homes to come and stay in the open in Accra.

Madam Salamatu Imoro, also a pilgrim from Tamale, expressed her unhappiness about the situation and complained that the Chief Imam Alhaji Nuhu Sharabutu had not visited them since they arrived. Others suggested that those responsible for the delay should be prosecuted and added that competent companies regardless of the religion of their managers should be engaged to handle subsequent Hajj operations.