Shahana Islam, a resident of Dhaka’s Shyamoli, has had her bags packed since Jun 25 in anticipation of making the Hajj trip this year. Her appointed moallem, or guide, Abdul Hai told her that her flight would depart on June 27.
Over a week has passed, but she still hasn't received any updates about the status of the flight. The guide’s phone is also switched off, reports bdnews24.com.
Mirpur’s Tahmida Begum is facing a similar predicament. She and her son Tahmid Hasan were supposed to travel for the Hajj with Abdul. Over the past week, the guide has been evasive about the flight schedule. The family has not been able to contact him since Monday.
The holy ritual is scheduled to begin on Jul 8. But as the last Hajj flight departed from Dhaka on Tuesday, many people have begrudgingly given up on their hopes of performing the pilgrimage this year.
They are now seeking the government's help to get their money back.
“They took Tk 600,000 from each of us. All our documents, including passports, are with the guide. We haven't been able to reach him over the phone since Monday,” said Shahana.
As many as 32 people had signed an agreement with Abdul to go for Hajj. All of them are now grappling with a dire situation. Money isn't all that is at stake for these families -- their dignity, too, is on the line.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Saudi Arabian government has lowered the eligibility age for pilgrims to 65. As a result, many could not go for the Hajj this year, even after registering for the pilgrimage last year. And many now fear that they never will.
"A lot of people have already started to cry. If the authorities uphold the age limit rule next year, many will not be able to perform the Hajj,” said Shahana.
Passengers wait for the first Hajj flight to take off at Dhaka’s Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport on Saturday.
Abdul provided multiple phone numbers to the Hajj hopefuls. But none of those numbers are currently reachable. His assistant’s phone, too, was switched off.
Tahmida said the victims have visited the Hajj camp several times and contacted various agencies of the government. But they have not found a solution.
The Ministry of Religious Affairs said in a statement on Monday that they have information about 300 Hajj pilgrims being duped by fraudsters.
"Despite repeated warnings, some unscrupulous circles and unregistered, anonymous agencies like Al Helal Agency and registered agencies like Maria and Arabian Tours deceived the pilgrims by taking hundreds of thousands of taka from them without carrying out the pre-registration and registration procedures.”
"Those who were deceived arrived at the religious affairs ministry on Monday to collect their visas in various ways, which is not desirable at all. All concerned have been alerted about the situation. The ministry will take legal and administrative action against these circles”
Saudi Arabia has conditionally organised the Hajj this year after it was closed off to foreigners for the last two years due to the pandemic. The Gulf kingdom has imposed a number of restrictions, including setting age limits and quotas for each country.
As many as 60,146 people have gone to Saudi Arabia from Bangladesh to perform Hajj this year – 4,115 under government management and 55,885 under private agencies.
So far, 13 Bangladeshi pilgrims have died, according to the religious affairs ministry.
Hajj flights from Bangladesh began on Jun 5 and ended on July 5. The return flights will start running on Jul 14 and end on August 4.
The pilgrims will start their Hajj formalities on Wednesday. On Jul 8, they will gather at the Arafat Maidan to attend the main Hajj ceremony. This year's Hajj will end on Jul 9 with animal sacrifices.