Govt yet to trace 14 missing pilgrims; families blame Saudi govt





Religious ministry’s official says they are dying of old age

The Religious Affairs Ministry has failed to locate the whereabouts of approximately fourteen missing pilgrims. Sources in the Religious Affairs Ministry told Pakistan Today, during the last year, a total of 14 pilgrims went missing; however the ministry had yet to ascertain their whereabouts, which put a question mark on the performance of the ministry as well as on the Pakistani Consulate at Jeddah.

The sources said that the ministry heavily charges the pilgrims but doesn’t take the responsibility in case of any mishap.

A senior official in the ministry on the condition of anonymity told Pakistan Today that out of the fourteen missing Pakistani pilgrims, three have been in detention in Saudi Arabia, while the government has no clue about the whereabouts of the rest of the pilgrims, adding, the Saudi government and relevant ministry did not cooperate with the Pakistani authorities.

The official said that despite repeated reminders the Saudi government responded only once.

However, the official said that the government and the ministry could not be blamed for the issue, as people have been equally responsible for performing Hajj at old age.

According to the data gathered from the ministry, during 2016, 86 pilgrims died in Saudi Arabia of a natural death of which 50 were on government quota while 36 had gone privately.

Furthermore, the data showed that around 156 pilgrims were over 90 years of age, which led to deaths because of massive rush there.

A senior official said that out of the 86, the ministry had given Rs 0.5 million each to 62 families, while the rest would be paid the promised amount when their documentation process was completed.

The list of the persons who have gone missing during the Hajj of 2016, also includes an 80 years old Haji Abdul Ghafoor Khan from Charsadda.

Despite the lapse of more than six months neither the Saudi nor the Pakistani authorities have been able to give any reassuring information to the family of the missing haji.

Talking to Pakistan Today, Imdad Ullah Khyal, who is working as an executive secretary at the OGRA, son of Haji Abdul Ghafoor Khan, claimed that his father has been in an unlawful and arbitrary secret detention in Saudi Arabia.

Non-cooperation of the concerned Saudi officials with their Pakistani counterparts has compounded and complicated the issue.

He said that his father had been detained by Saudi Authorities on August 19, 2016, as a result of an altercation with the Saudi police personnel at Gate No 20 of Masjid-e-Nabavi in Madina adding that a number of fellow pilgrims confirmed this incident.

Khyal said that despite the repeated assurances by Religious Affairs Federal Minister Sardar Muhammad Yousaf his father has still not being recovered.

He said that for the recovery of his father he contacted the Pakistan Foreign Office and Human Right Cell of Pakistan (HRCP), but all efforts were in vain.

“Interestingly, the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony officials and consulate general of Pakistan, Jeddah termed it a normal phenomenon,” he rued.

Khyal, on October 13, also wrote a letter to the Saudi ambassador in Islamabad urging him to help locate his father but never received a response, he lamented.

He appealed the Pakistan Chief Justice for taking a suo moto notice, as the relevant departments were hesitant to do anything to resolve the issue.

Ministry of Religious Affairs Spokesperson Imran Siddiqui told Pakistan Today that the officials of the ministry have been in close contact with the Saudi counterparts to get the missing hajjis recovered.

To a question, he said that the Religious Affairs minister had taken up the issue with his Saudi counterpart, who has assured him an early recovery of the missing pilgrims.