From Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown

Saudi Envoy Apologises over Pilgrimsí Visa Mix-Up
Nov 2, 2010, 17:12

The Saudi Ambassador responsible for Guinea and Sierra Leone has apologised to the Government of Sierra Leone yesterday November 1st 2010, say sources at the Foreign Ministry. The apology came about as a result of hundreds of Sierra Leonean pilgrims arriving in Saudi Arabia only to be detained and refused entry over a mix-up as to where their Visas stated they originated from. The country code on the Visa stickers had indicated Morocco instead of Sierra Leone because a computer glitch occurring in Sierra Leone had forced the Visas to be issued from the Moroccan embassy.

Eventually, the Saudi Arabian Immigration and Foreign Ministry officials realised where the mix-up had emanated from and that it was through no fault of the Pilgrims, thus, the over 400 Sierra Leonean distinguished pilgrims were allowed into Saudi Arabia yesterday afternoon.

Meanwhile, the batch of over 150 Pilgrims who had been left behind on Sunday are now slated to take off from the Lungi Airport at 8:00am this morning on a special flight sent in from Libya. They had been left behind on Sunday when the size of the plane sent in from Libya as arranged, proved to be too small to take them all and the replacement plane suffered from landing rights approval in intermediate countries on its way to Freetown.

This yearís Hajj trip is the very first one that was solely organised by the Ernest Bai Koroma Government and so far, indications are that apart from the initial delayed flights and Visa mix-ups, it is proving to be one of the most successful ones as far as the actual pilgrimage itself inside Saudi Arabia is concerned. Each pilgrim is being fed three square meals daily rather than the two meals they used to be served. In addition, every single pilgrim has been given the sum of US$120 to cover the purchase of the sacrificial lamb that every pilgrim offers as a sacrifice whilst in the Holy Land.

Government sources say the Government is planning to set up a permanent presence in Madina/Mecca as well as purchase vehicles like ambulance and buses for the sole use of the Sierra Leone pilgrims.

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