Umrah firms claim overstayer numbers are exaggerated
Umrah service firms have disputed a Passport Department report that said that 9,118 pilgrims failed to leave the Kingdom by the deadline set for last Monday and are now overstaying their visas. The Umrah firms said some of them have already returned to their countries.
The Passport Department said that of the 6,023,839 foreign pilgrims who arrived in the Kingdom for Umrah this year, 6,014,721 left the country, meaning 9,118 stayed back.
The official figures also showed that 2,184 pilgrims are waiting for their departure after completing their travel formalities. Some pilgrims might have stayed back because of security problems in Iraq and Libya, Umrah officials said.
“Half of the foreign pilgrims deemed still present in the Kingdom have already left and confirmed their arrival in their countries. Their names still figure on the list of those who did not leave the Kingdom because of the errors committed by some Passport officials,” said Ahmed Al-Keraishan, former chairman of the Haj and Umrah Committee at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Al-Keraishan, who owns an Umrah service company,pointed out that those returning pilgrims whose departure has not been recorded have called from their homes saying they have reached in their countries.
He said the remaining pilgrims are still in the Kingdom because of issues related to cancelled bookings or some problems with the Passport Department. However, they would be able to leave the country in a few days.
He said the Umrah organizers in general did not come across any serious problem in arranging return flights for their pilgrims.
Saad Al-Qarshi, a member of the National Haj and Umrah Committee, called the Passport Department report exaggerated. However, he believed that some pilgrims might have stayed back because of unreliable security situation in countries such as Libya and Iraq where airports are not fully operational.