‘Confusion’: Indian pilgrims and tour operators await official Saudi rules for umrah | Salaam Gateway

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News of Saudi Arabia’s decision to reopen the umrah for pilgrims from outside the Kingdom from August 10 has left Indian pilgrims and private tour operators unhappy as they await clarification on their participation.

Currently, direct flights between India and Saudi Arabia are suspended under COVID-19 restrictions.

In addition, Saudi media, quoting Hisham Bin Saeed, spokesperson for the Hajj and Umrah ministry, reported that pilgrims from outside the Kingdom would only come from non-forbidden countries. He added that the countries currently facing the travel ban are India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Egypt, Turkey, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, United Arab Emirates. , Ethiopia, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Lebanon.

Salaam Gateway reported on July 27 that Indonesian government officials confirmed receiving a circular from Saudi authorities saying Indonesian pilgrims must first serve a mandatory 14-day quarantine in a third country before they can enter Saudi Arabia to the umra.

However, we have not received any responses to our emails to two officials from the Saudi ministry of hajj and umrah seeking to clarify the rules for India’s participation in umrah.

Saudi Arabia has suspended umrah for pilgrims outside the Kingdom for 17 months, since February last year, as part of efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19.

LACK OF CLARITY

Indian hajj and umrah private tour operators and officials of the Indian hajj committee told Salaam Gateway that they are still awaiting clarification from Saudi Arabia on the reopening of umrah.

The president of the All India Haj Umrah Tour Organizers Association (AIHUTOA), Shoukat Ibrahim Tamboli, told Salaam Gateway that what they are reading in the news is that Indians will have to quarantine themselves for 14 days in a third country, but they are still waiting for an official announcement from Saudi Arabia. Arabia.

At the association level, he said they were in informal talks with officials from the Ministry of Minority Affairs and “will submit a formal letter of request to them in a few days.”

“We ask them to have talks with their Saudi counterparts so that the 14-day quarantine condition can be lifted. We are saying that those who have been fully vaccinated should be allowed to leave directly like other countries, ”Tamboli said.

Afzal Patel, owner of Atlas Tours & Travels, said few people know when Saudi Arabia will reopen Umrah and whether Indians will be allowed. “This is because no official announcement has yet been made. Things keep changing, which creates confusion. Therefore, a lot of uncertainties are still there.

The private Mumbai-based hajj and umrah tour operator who sent around 10,000 pilgrims for umrah each year before COVID said that in the past it had arranged quarantine stays in third countries prior to the pilgrimage, but “it there were cases where some pilgrims were still sent away for various reasons ”.

“That’s why we haven’t made any packages yet. We hesitate to redo packages… to ask people questions and then say no to them. So, you better shut up… let’s see what happens, ”Patel said.

COT DE LA OMRA TO DOUBLE

While still awaiting clarification from Saudi authorities, private tour operators say the cost of umrah packages will double if pilgrims have to quarantine themselves in a third country for 14 days first, making it very unaffordable and unsustainable for the most part.

“Currently, the packages offered in countries such as the United Arab Emirates or Bahrain for quarantine are around 100,000 to 120,000 rupees (1,350 to 1,620 dollars), just for a one-way ticket. And then you need to take another package for umrah in saudi arabia. So the cost will be double, ”said Tamboli, who runs Tamboli Tours & Travels in Ahmednagar in Maharashtra.

While the umrah package providers in Saudi Arabia are still working on the packages and have not provided their costs, Tamboli predicts that they will be much higher than during the pre-COVID period.

“Previously, umrah packages from India were between 50,000 and 200,000 rupees. But now that 50,000 rupee package will cost you over 100,000 rupees due to the quarantine conditions, ”Tamboli said.

LARGE SOURCE MARKET

India is one of Umrah’s largest source markets, with around 30,000 to 40,000 pilgrims disembarking in Saudi Arabia each month before the pandemic.

“If you take away two months of hajj, umrah business continues for 10 months a year. People engage in umrah from all major cities in India. It’s a huge industry, but everything has stalled for two years, ”Tamboli said.

Saudi Arabia issued 1.647 million umrah visas from August 31 to December 5, 2019, with 210,052 Indian pilgrims.

Tamboli said the umrah should start sooner rather than later.

The All India Tour Organizers Association Haj Umrah has also requested that Indian Covaxin be included in Saudi Arabia’s approved vaccine list.

Currently, Saudi-approved jabs include Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson.

Embassy of India in Riyadh in June tweeted that the Saudi authorities have recognized the equivalence of the Covishield vaccine in India with the Astra Zeneca which is approved by the Saudi authorities.

Tamboli also said that the Indian government should not impose any quarantine conditions on pilgrims after their return from Umrah, although no such issue has been announced by the government.

India’s Hajj Committee, which is not directly involved in sending pilgrims to Umrah, said it was receiving letters from State Hajj Committees and NGOs asking the Indian government to discuss with the Saudi authorities to relax Umrah restrictions.

“I think the talks will take place more from the Foreign Ministry and the Health Ministry to their Saudi counterparts, as these restrictions are due to the health conditions and external affairs of the country. As far as the ministry of minorities or Hajj is concerned, they have less of a role to play in this regard, ”said Dr Maqsood Khan, CEO of the Hajj Committee.

He said the Hajj committee forwarded all letters it received to the Ministry of Minority Affairs, along with its recommendations.

Dr Khan believes that widespread negative media coverage of the coronavirus situation has led many countries to ban travel from India. “This is due to the health precautionary measures; not because of any discrimination against Indians, Pakistanis or Bangladeshis.

He believes these conditions will be relaxed as soon as India improves its health conditions.

NO SITOT

As coronavirus cases are still high in India – the Ministry of Health reported 44,643 cases on Friday August 6 – and flights to Saudi Arabia are currently on hold, some private tour operators say it is very few likely India will be allowed to send pilgrims anytime soon, even if they are passing through a third country.

Yusuf Ahmed Kherada of Al-Khalid Tours and Travels, another Mumbai-based private tour operator who sends 100 to 150 Umrah pilgrims each month, said that unless instructed by Saudi Arabia, Indian operators can’t do anything.

He is not optimistic that Indian Muslims will achieve Umrah this year. “If Allah allows it, I think we may have the opportunity to go there during Rajab or Shaban. Rajab will largely overlap February 2022, followed by Shaban.

Amidst all the uncertainties, private operators say people still love umrah. “People are wondering about it. We receive requests. Once the umrah starts and people start to leave, I think the positivity and momentum will surely return to the market, ”said Patel of Atlas Tours & Travels.

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