A petition, called new Umarah Visa Fees Must Fall, has been circulating on social media calling for Saudi Arabian authorities to reconsider increasing visa charges for repeat haj and umrah pilgrims. More than 7300 supporters have thus far signed the petition. This follows a decision by Saudi authorities to impose a fee of 2,000 Saudi riyals, which converts to approximately R8 000, on any repeat pilgrims travelling to the kingdom. Last week, The National Federation of Travel Agencies of Morocco decided to boycott umrah trips. The Egyptian Travel Agents Association has also decided to boycott all haj and umrah exhibitions. They are said to form committees to persuade the Ministry of Haj to overturn the decision.
Speaking to VOC News, local social activist, Yusuf Abramjee says the price hikes will inconvenience those who are planning to perform umrah in the coming weeks.
“In my view, these fee hikes are exorbitant and is going to put a massive strain on pilgrims who intend on going for haj for the second time and those who have already booked,” Abramje stated.
Abramjee says local travel agencies have voiced concern at the price hikes and further confirmed that the new pricing has raised serious concern within the global Muslim community who are calling on Saudi authorities to review the costing.
“Umrah season was briefly open last week, but because of the new implementations I am told it’s been put on hold. I have been speaking to a number of travel agencies and everyone is unanimously saying that these price hikes is going to place a massive strain on ordinary Muslims who cannot afford it.”
While the Kingdom has not officially stated its reason for the price hikes, Abramjee says that other than media releases from Saudi Arabia, no official communication has been addressed to the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Pretoria.
Abramjee says that the decision appears to be aimed at generating revenue and, therefore, urges Saudi authorities to reconsider their decision.
“We know that haj and umrah has become very expensive and a fee of R8000 is going to put a lot of pressure on people who really cannot afford it. People save lifetimes to make the journey, for the Saudi Arabian authorities to implement such hikes is something we should condemn,” he added.
In light of rumours that a number of South African haj and umrah operators are considering boycotting the pilgrimage, Abramjee says that he is not convinced that a boycott will be effective in influencing Saudi authorities.
He notes that a boycott may negatively impact pilgrims who are able to afford the price hikes.
With regards to the petition, he states that it remains to be seen whether or not the petition will be effective, but affirms that petitioning is means to have the voices of the masses heard.
“At the end of the day, I think we need to raise our voices and we need to ensure that we tell the Saudi Arabian authorities that the proposed fees will make it difficult for pilgrims to afford haj and umrah,” Abramjee continued.
VOC News 91.3fm