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Operators must ensure visas are ready: Sathoa

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The South African Haj Travel Operators Association (Sathoa) says hajj operators should ensure that all processes are in place before pilgrims leave for the airport. 22 hujjaj who were meant to depart for hajj on Saturday arrived at OR Tambo international airport in Johannesburg to discover that their visas were not ready. The group missed their Saudi Airlines flight but subsequently left South Africa on Monday after the visas were issued.

Fazila Malek of New Heights Travel explained that things were “out of their control” as the visas were delayed due to a technical glitch.

“The visas were delayed and never printed on time. The group that did not receive their visas were taken care of,” she told VOC in a Whatsapp message from Saudi Arabia.

Sathoa chairperson Sedick Steenkamp said while there can be glitches in the new E-Hajj system, operators should inform hujjaj timeously. Unlike in previous years, passports are no longer submitted to the Saudi embassy as hajj operators can issue the visas themselves.

“The issuing of visas is the final step in the E-Hajj system and operators must ensure that all processes are in place,” he said.

“If hujjaj do not have their visas by the evening before [they depart], they should be prudent. I have discussed with my colleagues that if this happens in the future, hujjaj must be informed so that they do not go to the airport. Communication must be improved so these situations do not occur.”

Apart from the experience being traumatic for anxious hujjaj who are at the airport, the visa delay also creates logistical problems for the travellers.

“If there are hujjaj who come from a coastal city and depart from Johannesburg, there are arrangments that need to be made. So these delays can cause disruptions. It’s crucial that people have all their documentation.

“Mistakes can happen, but it’s the way we deal with them. We need to avoid causing traumatic experiences for hujjaj at the airport.”

After a late additional quota, 4000 South Africans will perform hajj this year – the largest in years. The remaining hujjaj will depart the country by the 5th of August. This year’s hajj starts on the 9th of August and ends on the 14th of August. VOC

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