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12.11.2010 Religion

600 Pilgrims Stranded

By Daily Guide
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The stranded pilgrims have been asked to leave the Hajj Village at El-Wak, despite the intervention by the Vice President, John Mahama who had to delay his scheduled flight to Czech Republic for an official engagement.

 
With the Pilgrims Airport, Jeddah, now closed for flights to foreign aircraft, the chances are even dimmer that there could be any reversal of the status quo.

Investigations made by DAILY GUIDE suggest that during the annual pre-Hajj conference in Saudi Arabia, individual countries' representatives present their visa requests, alongside accommodation and transport arrangements based on their quota.

With a request for 2500 Ghanaian pilgrims, which include a portion of the protocol list, in the face of 3,100 persons fully processed documents, it was not difficult foreseeing the problems being encountered today.

Efforts by authorities to get the Saudis to bend the rules for Ghana have so far failed to yield dividends, leaving the about 600 outstanding pilgrims to sit in limbo.

Some of the conditions for the issuance of visas include the confirmation of accommodation and transportation from the airport to Mecca and to Madina and eventually back to Jeddah for the homeward trip.

Visas would only be issued when the Saudis are satisfied that the foregone have been taken care of.

When DAILY GUIDE contacted the immediate past Ghana Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Alhaji Rashid Bawa about his take on the unsavoury development, he said the Saudi ambassador had told him that he was awaiting authorization from the Hajj Ministry in Saudi Arabia before he could issue further visas.

'I think that Muslims should be able to choose competent persons to manage the Hajj. Management of the religious exercise should be devoid of politics. An Executive Secretary should be appointed to run the day-to-day operations of the Hajj through an advertisement so the best candidate can be engaged,' he said.

He observed that what was going on now should not have happened, given that it happened in 2007.

'We learnt from experience that when applying for a quota you should go a little above the actual, making room for protocol which could pop up at the last minute. Let Muslims set up a permanent body to manage the Hajj,' he stressed.

The current problem, he noted, is the result of the Hajj Committee seeking further visa issuance outside the 2,500 agreed upon earlier.

'Under such a situation, the envoy would have to await authorization from Saudi Arabia before issuing the entry visas.'

In 2007 when the Jeddah Pilgrims Airport was closed- a standard procedure- it took the intervention of President Kufuor and Hon Rashid Bawa to get the Saudi authorities to grant a special landing permission.

It was Sultan Ibn Abdul-Aziz, the Crown Prince, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence who authorized the landing of the Ghanaian pilgrims, permission which the authorities stated would be the last time. Part of the request translated from Arabic read, 'The Ambassador of the Republic of Ghana filed a request, of which a copy is attached hereto, informing us that there are 2800 pilgrims from Ghana who could not be transported within the fixed time……There is no objection to that. Sealed by Seal of Minister of Defence to be read to Air Traffic Officer on duty.'

Pockets of scandalous conduct have been isolated, one of which involved an Imam whose passport bore markings of protocol which he said he bought for a specified amount of money- an indication that some miscreants did brisk business under the prevailing circumstances.

When the Azorka boys stormed the Hajj Board recently, their anger was fueled by such suspicions, DAILY GUIDE gathered.

By A.R. Gomda

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