Fingers crossed for 1,000 hajj pilgrims

Hajj agents have sent visa applications and documents of almost all pilgrims to the Saudi Embassy in Dhaka within the deadline that expired yesterday.

Sources at the Hajj Camp Office and Hajj Agencies Association of Bangladesh (Haab) revealed this major development to The Daily Star.

Leaders of Haab claimed that the embassy had agreed to receive visa applications of the remaining 300-400 pilgrims within noon today under special consideration.

“About 1.26 lakh pilgrims [of just over 1.27 lakh total] have so far got visas. Applications of another 300 to 400 pilgrims will be sent to Saudi Embassy tomorrow [today]. About 700 pilgrims might be dropped on various grounds, including illnesses and deaths,” Shahadat Hossain Taslim, secretary general of HAAB told The Daily Star last night.

Talking to this correspondent, Religious Affairs Secretary Abdul Jalil said they were hoping to complete the visa process of all pilgrims by today.

Saiful Islam, director of Hajj Camp at city's Ashkona, said although the deadline for sending visa applications for pilgrims ended yesterday [Sunday], Saudi Embassy in Dhaka has agreed to receive applications until noon today.

Asked, he said one to two percent pilgrims might not be able to perform hajj this year due to different reasons, including deaths and illnesses.

“Every year around 1,000 pilgrims miss the hajj on various grounds. The number may be 600-700 this year,” he added. 

Meanwhile, Haab leaders yesterday told this correspondent that they were worried about getting Biman's air tickets for the pilgrims before its deadline of August 26.

Shakil Meraj, Biman general manager (public relation), said as of 8:00am yesterday, a total of 84,546 pilgrims were sent to Saudi Arabia by Biman and Saudia.

Biman was scheduled to operate 10 hajj flights in the 24 hours from 8:00am yesterday, which means at least 4,000 pilgrims were likely to fly to Saudi Arabia in those flights, sources in Biman said.

In the last seven days, Biman and Saudia did not cancel any hajj flights due to shortage of passengers, sources at the two airlines said.

HAAB secretary general last night said Biman and Saudia would have to send around 37,000 pilgrims within August 28. Biman's last hajj flight is on August 26 and Saudia's August 28.

Biman was forced to cancel 24 flights in which over 11,000 pilgrims could have been sent. Saudia was forced to cancel four flights in which around 1,500 pilgrims could have gone to Saudi Arabia, airlines officials said.

A total of 1,27,198 Bangladeshi pilgrims are scheduled to perform hajj this year. Of them, Biman and Saudia are scheduled to carry equal number of pilgrims.

Due to frequent cancellation of hajj flights and despite getting permission to operate 21 additional flights, Biman has a tough challenge, top officials of the national flag carrier said.

“We have taken various measures, including requesting the Saudi government to extend the deadline to operate the hajj flight by one or two days. If the deadline is not extended, we will seek assistance from Saudia,” said a top marketing official of Biman wishing anonymity.