Saudi opens borders for Umrah but SA pilgrims still restricted

Those South Africans who are prepared to quarantine for14 days may be allowed entry into the Holy Land, but the costs are enormous, writes an Al-Qalam Reporter.

Saudi Arabia officially opened its borders to foreign Umrah pilgrims this week on condition they are fully vaccinated against Covid – but sadly South African pilgrims still do not have blanket entry permit.

“Unfortunately entry for South Africans is still prohibited as South Africa remains on a list of nine countries still restricted from entering the Saudi Kingdom”, said Ismail Olla, a member of the executive committee of the South African Muslim Travel Operators Association.

Speaking to Al-Qalam, Olla said should any South African who insist on visiting the Holy Land, they WILL be allowed to enter the Kingdom on condition that they go under strict quarantine for 14 days at their own cost in a country “which is not on the list of banned countries.”

“Once the 14 day period is completed, South Africans may enter Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah. This has caused disappointment amongst Pilgrims as there are added costs of quarantine in countries like Jordan where the cheapest package for accommodation only starts from R8500 pp sharing for the quarantine period. The Kingdom’s national carrier, Saudi Arabian Airlines, has since stopped direct service between Johannesburg & Jeddah due to the restrictions in place”.

He said in addition to a period of compulsory quarantine outside of South Africa, little to no information has been provided as to what the rules and regulations for South Africans will be. Contractual obligations between local agents and their Saudi counterparts are yet to be concluded.

“The intention of The Saudi Government is to allow 60 000 Umrah Pilgrims per month which will gradually be increased to two million pilgrims per month. By this stage we hope and pray South Africans and Muslims worldwide will be allowed to perform Umrah. Persons entering Saudi Arabia are required to be fully vaccinated with only the recognised vaccines, ie. Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca, Moderna & Johnson & Johnson.

Olla said all foreign pilgrims would have to submit authorised COVID-19 vaccination certificates along with their Umrah request.

Olla pointed out that the Saudi Government has ensured that the vaccination roll-out was being accelerated nationwide in an effort to eradicate Covid so that Umrah & Hajj for Muslims worldwide could once again be revived.

“During the pandemic two Hajj seasons had been completed successfully. In a very unusual sight, Hajj 1441 had seen 1000 fortunate locals and residents of Saudi Arabia perform the fifth Pillar of Islam with no reported cases of Covid-19. Hajj 1442 was also completed successfully with just under 60,000 fully immunised residents and nationals allowed to complete the ritual. Although not the millions of Pilgrims which we are accustomed to seeing each year, it is a step in the right direction for Saudi Arabia in reopening its borders.

“Many have asked the question, ‘why is South Africa on the list of banned countries?’ I believe it is due to the slow roll-out of the immunisation program of our country, the stigma attached to the Delta strain and anti vaxxers. South Africa has vaccinated just 17% of its population and although Muslims make up a small percentage of the population, the quicker we as Muslims vaccinate the sooner we can return to the Haramain.

“Currently The South African Muslim Travel Operators Association, on behalf of its members and the pilgrims of South Africa, are in direct communication with key role players in Saudi Arabia ensuring that the most reliable and updated information is been forwarded first hand, therefore putting SAMTOA in a better position to inform the public.

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