The Saudi government has minimised the number of visas for Umrah during coming Ramadan to 25,000 only whereas last year this number was 125,000, said a travel agent on Monday.
He said that travel agents have issued 52000 tickets to the pilgrims across the country for the coming Ramadan and these tickets are non-refundable. Tickets are issued by 12 airlines including PIA.
A PIA officer seeking anonymity said that the PML-N upcoming government should take up the issue with the Saudi government since it would be a matter of big loss not only for the PIA and other airlines but for poor pilgrims also. He said that the PIA would be bound to operate its Jumbo and B-777LR and B-777ER for Umrah operation whether or not there was passengers load on the flight. Ultimately the PIA would have to operate under load flights causing huge losses of revenue. A travel agent on condition of anonymity said that the PIA had already minimised its Umrah fares by Rs 48,000 and it was viable by May 30, 2013 but now due to the prevailing situation he hoped that this discounted fare would prolong by June 15. By the coming Ramadan the fare could go down further because the Saudi government has minimised the number of visas by 25,000 for all Pakistan and 0.5 millions visas for all over the world, while last year this number was 1.35 million. The Saudi authorities were of the view that they were on the extension of ‘Haramain’ and for that purpose they were trying to issue minimum visas so that pilgrims could be given better boarding lodging facilities. The Saudi government has also asked travel agents to ensure the return of their Umrah pilgrims first batch they sent otherwise no new visa would be issued to them for further batches. A travel agent said that there was a general trend among the people from some areas that they try to slip in Saudi Arabia after performing of Umrah. At present there were about 6,000 Pakistanis in the jails of Saudi Arabia who were held by the Saudi authorities after overstay. Now The Saudi government has asked the Pakistani government to transport back those overstaying pilgrims. The PIA has taken responsibility for 100 such passengers to transport them to Pakistan. Travel agents have appealed to the coming government of Mian Nawaz Sharif to take up the matter with the Saudi govt and resolve the issue.