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British Muslims Troubled by Saudi’s New Hajj Lottery

By Neelam Rahim

Hundreds of British Muslims who booked trips to Saudi Arabia to perform the hajj pilgrimage have described their anger and frustration at being stranded in the UK despite paying thousands of pounds for flights and hotels through a flawed Saudi government-backed system.

Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia’s ministry of hajj and umrah announced that pilgrims from Europe, the US and Australia could not book hajj packages through travel agencies and would instead apply through a lottery system called Motawif.

Over the weekend, the farcical scenes continued as pilgrims with fully paid packages and confirmed visas were turned off from airports – or told to not even surface in the first place.

A West Yorkshire-based pilgrim said that she and her group of seven had paid over £65,000 in Hajj packages but could not board flights from Manchester airport on two separate days.

“The flight on 25 June was overbooked,” British people pilgrim, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told MEE. “Saudia Airlines told us that Motawif had not booked us on to the flight. The flight was full in economy and business class had 12 seats available.”

She said that whilst at the airport, she waited for hours on the phone with Motawif, which she described as “dishonest”.

“They told me the flight was cancelled because of a technical fault with the plane and to travel home,” she said. “We were ten minutes off from the airport and proceeded to travel to the airport as there was no information online to mention the [flight] had been cancelled.”

The flight wasn’t cancelled and took off one hour and a quarter-hour later than scheduled on Saturday afternoon – suggesting the “technical fault” excuse may be an entire fabrication.

The anxious wait determines if Motawif will deliver on its promise to reschedule its flights.


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