Performing hajj this year has become very uncertain for over 7,000 Bangladeshis as the Saudi authorities insist those who performed the rituals at least once in the last five years must have to pay an additional Tk 44,000 each.
The Saudi hajj authorities conveyed the decision to the Bangladesh Hajj Mission in Saudi Arabia at a meeting in Makkah last night, Hajj Councillor Maksudur Rahman told The Daily Star.
Saudi officials argued that they adopted the same policy for all hajj pilgrims from around the world and the Bangladeshis must also comply with it.
They said the Saudi government slapped the additional fees as a means to discourage pilgrims from performing hajj several times.
Repeat pilgrims were rich enough to pay the additional fees, Maksudur quoted a Saudi official as saying.
Earlier in the day, Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister Rashed Khan Menon said, “We successfully carried hajj pilgrims to Saudi Arabia in recent years and earned praise. But this year we are facing some unforeseen issues, including a hike in moallem fees and slapping of an extra fee of SR 2,000 on each pilgrims who had performed hajj either in 2015 or 2016.”
The Saudi government didn't inform the Bangladesh government about the additional fee, he told reporters after an inter-ministerial meeting at the secretariat yesterday.
“We came to know about the extra fees long after the announcement of this year's hajj package rates.”
The government had fixed this year's minimum hajj package rate at Tk 3,19,355 for each pilgrim.
Earlier, leaders of Hajj Agencies Association of Bangladesh (HAAB) said it wouldn't be possible for them to collect the additional fees from the pilgrims at the last moment. Also, they wouldn't be able to pay the fees themselves.
Around 7,000 pilgrims, who had performed hajj in either of the last two years, completed registration for performing the ritual this year again.
While applying for visas online, the repeat pilgrims were being asked to pay an additional SR 2,000 each (Tk 44,000), said HAAB President Abdus Sobhan Bhuiyan.
MORE SPECIAL FLIGHTS FOR PILGRIMS
All the Jeddah and Makkah-bound regular flights of Biman Bangladesh Airlines will be turned into dedicated hajj flights from now to clear the backlog of 6,580 pilgrims who could not fly to Saudi Arabia mainly due to visa problems.
The decision came at an inter-ministerial meeting yesterday, with civil aviation and tourism minister in the chair.
Biman would request the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) of Saudi Arabia to allow it to operate more dedicated hajj flights so that no intending pilgrims miss this year's hajj, the largest religious congregation of the Muslims.
The meeting also decided that if the national carrier fails to get permission, the high authorities of the Bangladesh government will request the Saudi government for the permission.
Top officials of the religious affairs and civil aviation ministries, Biman Bangladesh Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines and Hajj Agencies Association of Bangladesh (HAAB) were present at the meeting.
The backlog of pilgrims developed as Biman had to cancel 12 dedicated hajj flights since the beginning of its hajj flight operation on July 24. The planes had a total capacity for 5,380 passengers, but the flights were cancelled due to shortage of passengers.
Another 1,200 pilgrims, who were scheduled to take three hajj flights of Saudi Arabian Airlines, are still at home as the carrier cancelled the flights for the same reason.
Biman currently operates 13 regular flights on Dhaka-Jeddah and Dhaka-Makkah routes every week.
As many as 1, 27,198 Bangladeshis are expected to perform hajj this year which would be observed either on September 2 or 3. The two national airliners will carry half of the pilgrims each.
Until yesteday, the two carriers ferried around 32,500 Bangladeshi pilgrims to Saudi Arabia. They are scheduled to operate departing hajj flights till August 27, said Biman sources.
About 18,000 pilgrims facing difficulties due to hiking of moallem fees from SR 720 to SR 1,500, Menon said the problem was over following a tripartite meeting last week between the representatives of HAAB, Bangladesh Hajj Mission in Saudi Arabia and the Saudi hajj authorities.