RIYADH, July 8: Saudi Arabia has slapped a temporary ban on all Pakistanis and Syrians from performing Umra to the kingdom because of visa irregularities, a newspaper reported on Monday.
Al-Watan said the ministry of Haj issued the ban because of widespread “trading in Umrah visas” last year that left around 10,000 pilgrims from the two countries stranded in Saudi Arabia.
According to the ministry, the pilgrims arrived in Saudi Arabia on false visas and were unable to leave the kingdom because of financial difficulties.
Saudi companies and their agents in Pakistan and Syria will now have to ensure that pilgrims pay all expenses in advance, as well as supplying their full names, date of arrival and hotel bookings in Saudi Arabia, as a prerequisite for obtaining a visa.
The ministry was also in contact with officials in Sudan and Yemen to verify reports of similar visa irregularities. A similar ban will be imposed if the reports were found to be true, it said.
Of the two million people who travelled to Makkah to perform Umrah last year, around 190,000 were from Pakistan and 120,000 from Syria.
A further two million Muslims, including Saudi nationals, took part in the annual Haj pilgrimage.—AFP