8 December 2023

They are seeking urgent answers from Saudi authorities as to when they would be allowed back to the Holy Land, writes an Al Qalam reporter.

Hundreds of South African Muslims who are aching to spend Ramadan Umrah in the Holy Land were given the disappointing news yesterday that the Saudi authorities had not yet decided when that would happen.

Ismail Olla, spokesman for the South African Muslim Travel Operators Association (SAMTOA) said every time he enquired from the Saudis about when they would open their borders to South Africans, the only response he got was “soon”.

“Yesterday, I once again contacted our representatives in Saudi Arabia to enquire whether they had any good news for us, but was given the same answer that South Africans would be allowed in ‘soon’ – this is the same answer we’ve been getting for the umpteenth time,” he said.

The Saudi Government recently opened its borders to other countries, but not yet to South Africa or from the continent.

“It’s a frustrating wait, not only for us in the industry, but also for hundreds of eager South Africans who are aching to visit the Holy Land, especially at this time,” Olla said.

This is the peak Umrah season when many South Africans would normally be packing and catching flights for the Holy Land. However, for the past two years following the outbreak of the devastating Covid pandemic, the Saudi authorities shut its borders to the world.

Only recently, the country gradually started opening its border to selected countries, except South Africa.

Saudi regulations state that all foreigners must submit an approved negative PCR test or negative antigen test 48 hours before their departure.

Meanwhile, Olla told Al Qalam that all SAMTOA members have their online systems ready to go and tickets and packages can be processed almost immediately should the Saudis give the go-ahead. If that happens, passengers would be booked to fly directly out of Durban’s King Shaka Airport, either on Emirates or Qatar Airways.

Durban resident Ashraf Khan (52) said he and his wife had applied to go for Hajj over four years ago. In 2020, he expected his name to be called up, but unfortunately, the pandemic broke out and Saudi Arabia shut its borders along with most countries.

“We are still yearning to go for Hajj, but in the interim, my wife and I would love to go for Umrah. We are ready to leave at the drop of a hat. It would be a dream to be there in Makkah and Madinah, he said.

Another Durban resident, Yasmin Sayed (55), said she had budgeted for an Umrah trip with her son but was worried that flight tickets may now increase substantially as a result of the Russia-Ukraine war.

“I am hoping Umrah travel opens soon, but I was warned that airline ticket prices may cost higher than normal. If that happens, I would forgo booking a superior package and opt for the cheapest package,” she said.

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