Pakistan protests ill-treatment of Haj pilgrims in Saudi Arabia

By Awais Saleem, IANS,

Islamabad : Pakistan has lodged an official protest with Saudi Arabia after receiving reports of ill-treatment of thousands of Haj pilgrims from the country and sought a hefty compensation in this regard.

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Hamid Saeed Kazmi, the federal minister for religious affairs, had to rush to Saudi Arabia a couple of days ago after he heard reports of pilgrims facing problems in board and lodging.

Around 160,000 Pakistanis had gone to Saudi Arabia to perform the pilgrimage.

Kazmi told Dunya TV from Saudi Arabia Thursday that “the pilgrims had to face severe problems when they reached Mina on the second leg of the pilgrimage”.

They had to face a lot of problems because of shortage of tents. The pilgrims had also held a protest outside the Pakistani Haj mission in Saudi Arabia.

“The arrangements had to be done by Saudi contractors to whom this arrangement was outsourced. The Saudi government has conceded that the fault occurred on their side and have set up a committee headed by Prince Nayfe to probe the matter,” he said.

The minister said a new schedule would be issued before Friday for the pilgrims facing difficulties in finding transportation to return from Mina.

The ministry, meanwhile, summoned five Pakistani officials posted in Saudi Arabia, who were dealing with Haj operations, back to Islamabad immediately after the return of the pilgrims to help in investigating the scandal.

The officials have been asked to bring with them the entire travel records.

The ministry will be questioning these officials about a letter written by a Saudi prince to the Pakistan Supreme Court chief justice regarding the incident.

The authorities have already called back Haj operations director in Saudi Arabia, Rao Shakeel, and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has launched an inquiry against him.

Rao Shakeel is believed to have played a key role in acquiring accommodation and transportation for the pilgrims, in association with Saudi companies to which the job was outsourced.

(Awais Saleem can be contacted at [email protected])