No entry to Hajj ‘without men,’ Saudi tells Nigeria
ABUJA - Agence France-PresseSaudi Arabia has refused entry to over 1,000 Nigerian women Hajj pilgrims because they were not accompanied by men, Nigerian officials said Sept. 26.
The women began arriving Sept. 23 at the airport in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, said a report compiled by the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria, which oversees Nigerian participation in the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. “Upon enquiries by the reception team officials of the National Hajj Commission in the airport, they were told that the pilgrims were held back because of lack of mahram [a lawful male accompanying a woman pilgrim],” said the report, which was submitted to the Nigerian House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs. About 171 of the women returned to Nigeria on a flight on Sept. 26, an official said.
1,000 women still stuck
“These women were not deported. They were returned based on the decision by the Commission because the embarrassment from the Saudi authorities was becoming unbearable,” commission spokesman Umar Bala said. Bilateral talks were ongoing between officials to resolve the issue, he added. He said that about 1,000 women were still stuck at Jeddah airport.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan set up a five-member team to deal with the Saudi authorities “over the issues surrounding the detained Nigerian female pilgrims at King Abdul-Azziz international airport, Jeddah,” an official statement said.
According to the report presented to Parliament, Nigerian pilgrims’ welfare boards have in the past acted as “mahrams” and visas had been granted on that basis. “Only those in Jeddah were affected. Checks at the Jeddah airport revealed that only Nigerian pilgrims were subjected to such treatment,” the report said.