2,500 hajj pilgrims yet to get visa
♦ 80,000 flown to Saudi Arabia in last 26 days
♦ Rest 47,000 will have to be there in 9 days
♦ Extended visa application deadline ends today
Around 2,500 pilgrims are yet to get visas as the extended deadline for completing the visa procedure expires today, according to Hajj Camp sources.
The Saudi government had extended the August 17 deadline by two days upon request from the Bangladesh religious affairs ministry, said Saiful Islam, director at the Hajj Camp in the city's Ashkona.
“All but about 2,500 aspirant hajis have got their visas. For the rest of the pilgrims, we have one day left to complete the processing of visas,” he told The Daily Star yesterday.
He, however, couldn't confirm whether the visa processing for the pilgrims could be completed in a day.
“We are trying our best. We are always in contact with the respective hajj agencies. The hajj office has instructed the agencies to submit visa applications of the rest of the pilgrims by tomorrow [today] without fail,” Saiful added.
Shahadat Hossain Taslim, secretary general of Hajj Agencies Association of Bangladesh (HAAB), said they were working round the clock at the Hajj Camp office to ensure visas for all the pilgrims by today.
About the allegation that a section of hajj agencies were making delay in completing the visa processing, Shahadatb said they would identify the reasons and take actions against those responsible after sending all the pilgrims to Saudi Arabia within the deadline.
“At this moment, our first priority is to send all the aspirant hajis to Saudi Arabia. We will look into the matter later,” he said.
Sources at the Hajj Camp and HAAB said visa processing for around 2,500 pilgrims might not be possible in a day.
“My experience says the Saudi embassy in Dhaka usually issues around 800 to 900 hajj visas a day. The number might go up to about 1,000 under special circumstances. In that case, performing hajj this year would be uncertain for some 1,500 pilgrims unless the Saudi authorities extend the deadline further,” said Hasan Bari, owner of United Makkah Madinah Travel. He has been running the travel agency for several years.
Talking to this correspondent, several more agency owners echoed the views of Bari.
Religious Affairs Secretary Abdul Jalil said they already applied to the Saudi authority to extend the visa application submission deadline by another day or two.
“We are yet to receive a response from the Saudi government,” he told The Daily Star yesterday.
According to him, around 1,500 pilgrims were yet to get visas. Some 700 to 800 pilgrims might not fly to Saudi Arabia this year, he added.
“Every year, three to four percent visa applications are not filed due to death, serious illness and other issues involving the aspirant hajis. This year, the number of such cases might be 700 to 800. In that case, we'll need visas for around 700 pilgrims.”
A total of 127,198 pilgrims are expected to perform hajj this year. As of 8:00am yesterday, 80,000 were sent to Saudi Arabia.
The Biman and Saudi Arabian Airlines have been carrying the pilgrims. The last dates for operating pre-hajj flights are August 26 and 28 for Biman and Saudi Arabian Airlines respectively.
Biman top officials said they already cancelled 24 hajj flights due to shortage of passengers which could have carried over 11,500 pilgrims to Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi Arabian Airlines on the other hand cancelled four flights so far which could have carried another 1,600 pilgrims.
The Biman, however, got approval from the Saudi civil aviation authority to operate 21 extra pre-hajj flights.
The national flag carrier also took measures to bring a Boeing 777 200 ER aircraft from Malaysia on lease on Sunday to facilitate transportation of pilgrims, said Shakil Meraj, general manager (public relations) of Biman.
In a bid to make more aircraft available for operating pre-hajj flights, the Biman rescheduled its regular flights reducing flight frequencies on different routes, including Dhaka-London, Dhaka-Muscat, Dhaka-Dubai, Dhaka-Abu Dhabi and Dhaka-Kuala.
Several Biman officials said they were hopeful the airline would be able to carry all the pilgrims to Saudi Arabia within the August 26 deadline provided that no more hajj flights are cancelled.