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DOHA: A belated decision by the Saudi authorities to raise the Haj quota for Qatar has left many aspiring pilgrims in a quandary.
Since Friday, many aspirants have been called in by Qatar’s Haj Committee and told that they have been selected for the pilgrimage. This came as an embarrassment for many, since hardly any time left for the preparations.
It is learnt that the Qatar’s quota has been raised from 1,500 to 5,000 but many aspirants are not able to benefit from the increase because the decision came too late. Several Haj tour operators (Muqawils) were forced to cancel their trips only because their repeated pleas to raise the quota didn’t receive any positive response from the authorities.
An aspiring expatriate family who were planning to travel to Saudi Arabia by road said they decided not to go because of the shortage of time to prepare.
“We got a message from the Haj Committee on Saturday saying we have been selected for the pilgrimage. There is hardly two days left for the preparations. So we have decided not to go,” a member of the family told this daily yesterday.
All the pilgrims travelling by road are supposed to leave the country by tomorrow (October 17) while those travelling by air have time until October 19.
Only 500 expatriates were selected in the initial phase, but the quota for non-Qataris has now been raised to 1,000, it is learnt. There were 16 Muqawils operating trips by road and 13 of them were forced to cancel the trips due to the abysmally low number of pilgrims. There was no indication of an increase in the quota until the last moment, said a source.
Meanwhile, some agents are allegedly exploiting the mess to raise the fares. Muqawils are now free to fix the fares after the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs lifted its control over pricing. Some agents are reportedly selling their vacant seats to aspiring pilgrims at higher prices.
“Only three Muqawils are conducting trips by road and the tariffs are generally fixed at QR12,000 based on last year’s fare. However, there are several complaints about some agents asking additional amounts to arrange a seat,” said a source, seeking anonymity.