The Jakarta Post
Almost 1,700 Indonesian nationals have been stranded in a number of transit countries by Saudi Arabia's decision to temporarily ban all foreign umrah (minor haj) pilgrims from entering the country because of concerns over the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Presidential spokesman Fadjroel Rachman said on Friday that the stranded pilgrims initially bound for the Islamic kingdom were expected to fly back to Indonesia as soon as they completed arrangements for their return.
"There were 1,685 [Indonesian] pilgrims stranded in third countries during transit and they are now in the process of being flown back home by their respective airlines," Fadjroel said without providing details of the transit countries.
At least 83 Indonesian pilgrims were stranded at Abu Dhabi International Airport after landing at the United Arab Emirates (UAE) capital from Jakarta at 12:24 a.m. on Thursday, the same day that Saudi Arabia announced the umrah ban.
Sanitary workers wearing protective face masks continue to clean the sahn (mosque courtyard) surrounding the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, as Muslim worshippers pray at the Grand Mosque complex in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca on February 27, 2020. (AFP/ Haitham EL-TABEI)
Indonesian Ambassador to the UAE Nur Ibrahim said the 83 pilgrims were expected to leave for Jakarta on Friday at midnight as they were unable to continue flying to Madinah in Saudi Arabia.
"The Indonesian government conveys its appreciation to all travel agents, airlines and other relevant parties who have been willing to make speedy responses to address the situation without putting more burdens on the pilgrims," Fadjroel said.
Meanwhile, 2,393 Indonesian pilgrims using 75 travel agencies, who had been scheduled to fly with eight different airlines on Feb. 27, were unable to embark on their pilgrimages, Fadjroel said.
Religious Affairs Minister Fachrul Razi has called for airlines and travel agents to facilitate the rescheduling of flights for all pilgrims affected by the ban.
As a result of the fast-spreading coronavirus, which has affected Saudi nationals in Bahrain and Kuwait, Saudi Arabia suspended umrah and visits to the Prophet's Mosque in Madinah as among several precautionary restrictions.
Hundreds of Umrah pilgrims piled up at Juanda International Airport in Sidoarjo, East Java province on February 27, 2020. (AFP/Juni KRISWANTO)
The Saudi Haj and Umrah Ministry also temporarily stopped issuing umrah visas and suspended the entry of tourist-visa holders from “countries with confirmed coronavirus outbreaks, according to criteria established by the Saudi health authorities".
Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, contributed the second-highest number of umrah pilgrims last year with 443,879 arrivals, according to the Saudi Haj and Umrah Ministry.
Saudi Arabia normally welcomes nearly 7 million umrah pilgrims every year. (afr)