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Uganda: Muslim pilgrims fail to get visas


By GODFREY LUGAAJU
Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Kampala - The travel of 350 Ugandans to Mecca and Medina for pilgrimage hangs in balance after the consular office at the Embassy of Saudi Arabia failed to issue visas to them.

Today is the deadline for pilgrims departing for the pilgrimage to the holy places in fulfillment of the fifth pillar of Islam. It is an annual event that takes place in the month of Dhul-Hijjah (December), the last month on the lunar calendar.

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Hajj is prescribed to only Muslims with sufficient wealth to sustain them while carrying out the rituals of this holy journey. It is made at least once during one’s lifetime.

The annual pilgrimage climaxes with the celebration of Idd-el-Adhuha where several animals are slaughtered. Some two million people travel to Mecca yearly for the pilgrimage.

By yesterday some 350 Ugandans out of the planned 750 accredited travellers had failed to secure their visas to Saudi Arabia.

“We have managed to get visas for 400 pilgrims but we are doing all what is in our means to secure visas for other 350 Ugandans but worried of failing to beat the deadline,” Sheikh Ahmada Lubega, a member on the Uganda Bureau of Hajj Association (UBHA), said.

Most Ugandans were yesterday seen stranded outside the Saudi Arabia Embassy in Kololo, Kampala.
“It is really a very hard time for us. The [Saudi Arabian] embassy has refused to give visas for 40 foreigners residing in Uganda,” he revealed.

He said the immigration offices at the embassy asserted that all foreigners should apply for visas for the holy pilgrimage through their countries of origin.

Most of these have working permits that enable them to travel freely as citizens of Uganda.
Officials at the embassy were not readily available for a comment, but the Foreign Affairs ministry supported the embassy decision.

“An embassy has the right to allow or deny someone entry into their country. It is in the discretion of the immigration officer,” Dr Sam Omara, the ministry spokesperson, observed.

The pilgrimage

The annual Hajj (pilgrimage) is one of the world’s largest gatherings, as hundreds of thousands of Muslims flock to Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia, to participate in one of Islam’s five pillars of faith. Muslims from all over the world will gather together for five days to pray as one community, celebrating their history and giving thanks for blessings.

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