Riyadh Deports Thousands of Overstaying Pilgrims

Mariam Al Hakeem, GulfNews.com, Mar. 31

The Saudi authorities have deported 12,000 illegal African immigrants over the past few weeks for overstaying their Haj visas.

Arrangements were being made to deport more Africans, officials at the Passports Department said.

The Africans were rounded up from an area near Jeddah Islamic Seaport where they have been camping under bridges and in open space for weeks.

Thousands of pilgrims from various parts of the world come to the kingdom for Haj and Umrah (minor pilgrimage) and stay back in search of employment.

The African pilgrims, who were camping close to the port, ran out of money and were finding it difficult to stay without food, shelter and healthcare.

Captain Fahd Al Wedayani, director of the immigration section at the Passport Department, said they have deported 12,000 Africans and a very few remained to be sent back. “They will be sent home in the coming days,” he said. The delay in deporting the illegal immigrants was caused due to problems in reservation of tickets, he added.

According to sources, the passport authorities used to visit the area and take 300 to 500 of the overstaying pilgrims to the airport for deportation. The Saudi authorities gave pilgrims until February 24 to leave the country or face arrest and deportation.

There were no exact figures but as many as 400,000 of the 1.5 million pilgrims who visited the kingdom for the Haj had been stranded for various reasons.

Many stayed back due to delays in flight schedules. Among them were thousands of Afghans who could not return because of bad weather in their country.

Some of the African pilgrims arrived in the kingdom on Umrah visas and stayed over for the Haj without any means of support. Umrah pilgrims are required to leave the country two weeks after the end of Ramadan.

Al Wedayani said he faced this situation every year and the department has proposed a mechanism to overcome the problem.

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