Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat- Saudi authorities will penalize pilgrims performing Umrah, the lesser pilgrimage, if they overstay their visas. These punishments include prohibition from entering the country for up to five years or fines of up to 50 Saudi Riyals per day of overstay.
Saad al Qurashi, vice chairman of the national Saudi committee for pilgrimage and tourism told Asharq Al Awsat that the decision to penalize overstaying pilgrims was discussed in the last meeting and it was decided that their passports would be stamped to indicate their delay of returning to their homelands.
Al Qurashi noted that Saudi authorities had looked into the issue of overstaying pilgrims especially due to the negative impact that it was having upon Saudi society such as the increase in the number of beggars. He stated that forty travel companies that specialize in organizing pilgrimages had had their licenses taken away due to the delay in returning pilgrims to their countries. In 2004, according to the statistics department of the ministry of Economy and Planning, 425,000 Umrah pilgrims overstayed their visas.
Al Qurashi explained that a large number of overstaying pilgrims choose to travel by sea due to the low costs in comparison to other modes of transport and that ferries are struggling to keep up with the number of pilgrims. He highlighted that two new Egyptian ferries will help meet the growing demand for travel by sea. One of the two ferries, ‘Farah’ will carry 800 passengers from Jeddah Islamic Port to the Egyptian port, Safaga. The second ferry, the ‘Honduras’ will carry over 1000 passengers per journey between Safaga and the Saudi port, Dhiba.
Al Qurashi revealed that there has been a boost in sea travel mainly to cater for pilgrims of the lesser pilgrimage, providing over 1000 jobs for young people during the Umrah period, which extends from the beginning of the Hijri month of Rajab until Dhul Qida. He praised recent developments of sea travel in Saudi Arabia.