Umra pilgrim crisis worsens at Jeddah airport

The problem of Egyptian Umra pilgrims stranded at Jeddah airport worsened on Tuesday with a rise in the number of elderly people and a lack of medical supplies.

Even though EgyptAir and the Egyptian Consulate in Jeddah have said the crisis is easing, the Tourism Ministry’s delegation gave contrary statements. 

Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdel Aziz, meanwhile, said his country does not discriminate between pilgrims based on their nationalities.

Since Sunday, Egyptian pilgrims have protested what they call mistreatment by Saudi airline workers at the airport. Several stranded pilgrims told Al-Masry Al-Youm that they will file reports with the attorney general against Egyptian and Saudi airlines.

Samir Imbaby, the head of EgyptAir’s office in Saudi Arabia, said the delays are out of the hands of the company and added that the crisis is beginning to ease.

Travelers on other airliners who have switched to EgyptAir have caused such delays, he claimed.

On average, flights are running around five hours late.

Ayman Nasr, chairman of EgyptAir, said the crisis in Jeddah has delayed the departure of some EgyptAir flights that were scheduled to leave from Cairo.

Sayyed Hamouda, a husband whose wife is stuck in Jeddah, said his sick wife was supposed to be back in Egypt two days ago.

“My wife suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer. Her medications are in her bags, which she has not yet received," Hamouda said.

No Egyptian official has provided an explanation for what is going on, he added.

Pilgrims who phoned Al-Masry Al-Youm also said they want Prime Minister Essam Sharaf to intervene to solve their crisis. They also said they will file reports with the attorney general to demand compensation, particularly since the airlines companies have failed to provide accommodation for the stranded pilgrims or to apologize for the delays.

Ahmed Saber said his parents are being mistreated by officers at Jeddah airport. He further said that the pilgrims are being prevented from using toilets in the departure halls and added that air conditioning units are being switched off despite the large numbers of people in the halls.

Ahmed Wahba, a member of the Tourism Ministry’s delegation to Mecca, told Al-Masry Al-Youm that the delegation visited the pilgrims on Monday and found that the crisis is continuing.

He said the flights are beginning to get back on schedule and that Saudi authorities have offered pilgrims hotel accommodation, but they turned down the offer.

Nasser Turk, deputy chairman of the Egyptian Chamber of Tourism, said Prince Khaled al-Faisal, governor of Mecca, has intervened to solve the problem. Saudi and private airlines are operating additional flights that will carry 3600 pilgrims and additional pilgrims will only be transported to Jeddah airport after those stranded at the airport have left.

The Egyptian Consulate in Jeddah is following up on the situation and the consulate general is working to solve the crisis even though the pilgrims have attempted to assault him, Turk said.

Nasser added that the crisis can be attributed to the 30 percent increase in the number of pilgrims compared to the year before. He said better preparations should have been made to avoid such overcrowding.

Amr Roshdy, spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry, said the Egyptian Consulate in Jeddah dispatched a senior delegation to Jeddah airport.

Around 4000 pilgrims are now scheduled to return on board nine flights, five of which will arrive in Cairo and the remaining four in Borg al-Arab, Roshdy said. He said the total number of Egyptian pilgrims does not exceed 1400 and they are expected to return on Thursday.

Translated from the Arabic Edition

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