AFP – More than 1,000 Nigerian women pilgrims remained stranded at a Saudi airport for a fifth straight day Thursday after being denied entry into the kingdom because they were not accompanied by men, an airport official confirmed.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said the women have been denied entry because “they are not accompanied by a mahram (the statutory male companion),” adding that talks were continuing between Saudi and Nigerian officials.
The official said that the Nigerian consulate in Jeddah had offered to ensure the women’s return after the annual hajj pilgrimage, but Saudi immigration officials were “sticking to their position.”
The kingdom has yet to release a formal statement regarding the case.
The women had begun arriving at Jeddah airport on Sunday, a report by the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria, which oversees Nigerian participation in the pilgrimage, said.
“Upon enquiries by the reception team officials of the National Hajj Commission in the airport, they were told that the pilgrims were held back because of lack of mahram,” said the report, which was submitted to the Nigerian House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs.
About 171 of the women flew home to Nigeria on Wednesday, an official said.
Nigerian President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan set up a five-member team on Wednesday to negotiate with the Saudi authorities, an official statement said.
According to the report presented to the committee, Nigerian pilgrims’ welfare boards have in the past acted as “mahrams” and visas had been granted on that basis.
The report said that officials observed that flights which arrived at Medina airport were not subjected to such treatment. The report also claimed that “only Nigerian pilgrims” were affected by the policy.
Last year, nearly three million Muslim pilgrims performed the hajj, which represents one of the five pillars of Islam and must be performed at least once in a lifetime by all Muslims who are able to do so.
Roughly half of Nigeria’s 160 million people are Muslim.