Expatriates from neighboring Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries entering into the Kingdom to perform the Umrah pilgrimage in private vehicles are being turned away by Saudi security officials at border posts.
Many Asian and Arab expatriates working in the UAE, Kuwait and Qatar come to the Kingdom to visit religious sites by car since it is more cost-efficient.
A group of expatriate pilgrims in Dubai obtained Umrah visas from the Saudi Consulate in the UAE, but were turned away by Saudi authorities at the border near Hofuf on Thursday night.
Mohammed Rashad Ali, an Indian expatriate living in Dubai, told Arab News on Friday: “We obtained Umrah visas from the Saudi Consulate here, but were not allowed to enter Saudi territory to proceed to Makkah in our own car.”
Ali said that he and his friends and relatives had to return to Dubai while still in “ihram” (attire worn for performing pilgrimage) and booked a Jeddah-bound flight instead.
He said that if they had known of the change in rules, they would have planned accordingly. The tour operator whom they contacted for clarification said that he was “unaware of any such restriction.”
Haj Ministry spokesperson Ali Al-Ghamdi told Arab News that the ministry had not imposed any conditions on the mode of transport to be used by pilgrims coming from GCC countries. “We have no idea if any other ministry or agency has created any such rule,” he added.
The Passport Directorate in the Eastern Province, which shares borders with member GCC countries, however, confirmed that there were some restrictions on expatriate pilgrims arriving by road from GCC countries.
Col. Muala Al-Otaibi, a spokesperson for the Passport Directorate in the Eastern Province, told local media that expatriate pilgrims are not allowed to enter the Kingdom in private vehicles and that the new measures stipulate that modes of transportation be approved by Umrah companies.
There were earlier reports stating that a group of “Bidoun” (Arabic for stateless persons) pilgrims from Kuwait were stopped at the Raqi checkpoint on the Saudi border and were turned away for the same reason.