• Thursday, April 18, 2024
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Anxiety as Saudi refuses to issue Umrah visas to Nigerian Muslims as Ramadan enters day 12

Hajj 

Thousands of Nigerian pilgrims might miss the 2024 Ramadan Umrah pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia due to the suspension of Umrah visa issuance by the authorities.

The decision has caused anxiety among intending pilgrims, especially as Ramadan enters its 12th day.
Also, Hajj and Umrah operators face significant financial losses from hotel bookings in Makkah and Madinah.

Several flights intended to transport pilgrims for the Umrah exercise have been cancelled or rescheduled.

For instance, a flight scheduled to depart from Kano to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, carrying over 300 intending pilgrims, was grounded due to visa issues, as reported by Daily Trust.

Umrah pilgrimage during Ramadan is a common practice in Nigeria and other countries, with Muslims aiming to spend the last 10 days of fasting in Saudi Arabia. However, this year’s plans are jeopardised by the Saudi authorities’ decision not to issue visas to intending pilgrims.

The decision to halt visa issuance by Saudi authorities aims to alleviate overcrowding during the holy month of Ramadan.

In Kano, hundreds of intending Umrah pilgrims are awaiting entry visas. Some travel agents attribute the delays to a new visa policy introduced by Saudi authorities. According to the policy, visas have a three-month validity and a two-week duration of stay, leading to confusion among pilgrims.

Haruna Ismail, Kano zonal chairman of the Association of Hajj and Umrah Operators of Nigeria (AHUON), explained that many pilgrims delayed their entry until Ramadan due to the visa’s validity period. However, some pilgrims overstayed their duration in the kingdom, unaware of the visa policy.

Ismail said many pilgrims had secured the visa since Rajab (the 7th month in the Islamic calendar) but delayed entry till Ramadan (the 9th month) because the visa has three months validity.

Abdulaziz Sabitu Mohammed, AHUON vice chairman, revealed that over 7,000 Umrah pilgrims have secured visas but have not entered the kingdom. He noted that discussions with the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) are ongoing to resolve the issue.

“From our estimation last year, Saudi Arabia received more than 25 million Umrah pilgrims out of which, three million performed Umrah in Ramadan, but this year, because of the new visa policy, three months validity and duration of stay of two weeks instead of one month, made many to overstay in the Kingdom. There were people who visited since Sha’aban (8th month) and stayed after performing the Umrah,” he said.

Intending pilgrims are resorting to extreme measures, such as paying exorbitant amounts up to N2 million for visas.

Babangida Danazumi expressed frustration over the delays. Also, Sadi Hamisu Ala highlighted the inconvenience caused by the visa uncertainty.

“Our booking was March 15, but we have to reschedule it because the visa is not ready. I belong to a group of eight persons and we bought our tickets seven months ago, believing that visas will be easy as every year. Usually, it is cheaper to book ahead and it makes things easier,” Ala said.

Alhaji Yahaya Nasidi, president of AHUON, confirmed that 90% of intending Umrah pilgrims may miss the pilgrimage due to visa issues, leading to cancellations of flights and hotel bookings.

“It is just unfortunate. Many people have cancelled their flights. The predicament is that most travel agents have made arrangements for hotels for the pilgrims and the pilgrims are not going. We don’t know how it is going to be. There would be a huge loss on hotels particularly,” he said.

However, NAHCON declined to comment on the matter when contacted.