Around 900 Palestinian pilgrims have been stranded due to Egypt’s decision to close the Rafah border crossing into the besieged Gaza Strip. Some of the pilgrims are still in Saudi Arabia while others are in Egypt en route to Gaza. The border has been closed since the coup against President Morsi almost a week ago and airlines have been instructed by the Egyptian authorities not to allow Palestinians from Gaza to board flights to Cairo.
The President of the Association of Hajj and Umrah Companies in Gaza, Awad Abu Mazkor, pointed out that the extra costs incurred by the pilgrims are being met by his members. Appealing to the Saudi authorities to show some understanding and compassion, he pointed out that pilgrims who overstay their visa period are prevented from returning for at least 5 years. “Our pilgrims may be penalised through no fault of their own,” he said.
Until the logistics of returning to their country are sorted out by the relevant authorities in Cairo, Palestinian pilgrims are left to wonder how long they will be stranded. “Our money is running out,” said one. “We were at the airport but were not allowed to board due to the Egyptian intervention; what can we do?”
Hajj Abu Rami Abu al-Ata called on the Egyptian authorities to open the Rafah crossing and allow them to pass through because most of the Gazans who are stranded in Saudi Arabia are elderly people. “Being near to the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah provides some comfort,” he added, “but we need to get home as quickly as possible.”