Hajj pilgrims languishing in the airport for days because of the mismanagement of Hajj agencies and airlines has become a yearly phenomenon without any redress. The situation this year is no different as 16 Hajj agencies have failed to send a single pilgrim to Saudi Arabia and 15,000 pilgrims are yet to get visas. The religious affairs ministry blamed the profit-seeking mentality of the Hajj agencies for this while the agencies have sought to explain that this was due to a sudden increase in Hajj service fees by Saudi Arabia. In this situation, as New Age reported on Tuesday, the High Court has asked the foreign ministry to ensure visas for Hajj pilgrims before the scheduled flights in 48 hours. It has asked the authorities to arrange special flights for Hajj pilgrims who missed their scheduled flights because of a delay in visa procedure. But there should be a sustainable solution to the problem that pilgrims face every year. The government must sit with all parties — ministries of religious affairs, foreign affairs, the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh and Hajj Agencies Association of Bangladesh — to decide a long-term solution.
The fact that none of the stakeholders involved in the process of sending pilgrims to Saudi Arabia is aware of the fact that the fee for Hajj services has increased is illustrative of the lacklustre and negligent management. An additional charge of 2,000 riyals, or Tk 44,000, for repeat Hajj has been imposed by the Saudi government for all pilgrims irrespective of their nationality. It seems that there exists a gap in diplomatic communication. The Bangladesh consulate should take up the issue with the authorities in Saudi Arabia if the Saudi government had not informed the consulate of the increase in Hajj service fee in time. According to various media reports, pilgrims suffer at every step on the way. In 2016, Transparency International Bangladesh reported that the pilgrims suffer as the agencies fail to take them to the airport in time, get them proper accommodation and food and inadequacy of flights. It also urged the government then to take action against Hajj agencies and brokers who cheated pilgrims and caused irregularities. It is, therefore, evident that the sufferings of the pilgrim this year are not an isolated incident. Irregularities are rather systemic and they should be treated that way to end the problem once and for all.
In what follows, the government must ensure that the High Court order to resolve the crisis is followed immediately and additional flights are arranged for pilgrims who are stuck without visas. More importantly, it must initiate a negotiation involving all parties to develop a guideline so that such sufferings of pilgrims could be prevented in future and Hajj agencies could be compliant. A diplomatic communication with Saudi authorities should also be in place to ensure that Bangladesh is informed in advance of any changes in the Hajj service fee.
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