As national carrier begins flying 1,200 would-be pilgrims
By Sanna Camara
Gambia Beat has confirmed the airlifting of about 200 passengers as would-be pilgrims from The Gambian airport early this morning.
This marks the beginning of series of flight services the national carrier is embarking on, in order to ferry over a thousand pilgrims to the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia in the next one week.
Officials of The Gambia International Airlines (GIA) have confirmed this to Gambia Beat last Friday evening. “The first flight will depart Banjul international airport at about 12:45am early today,” our source stated.
Next flight tomorrow
The source adds that the next flight will carry the same number of passengers tomorrow to be determined, after the flight disembarks the first batch of passengers at Jeddah, Saudi Arabia tomorrow.
“The GIA has contracted the Ethiopian Airline for the airlifting of Gambian pilgrims for this year’s pilgrimage in Mecca.
Gambia Beat has also learned that The Gambia’s quota of 2000 pilgrims has been reduced to only 1200. All other countries faced the same fate this year.
“The Saudi authorities are undergoing some construction and refurbishment works around the Kaaba and its environment this year. As a result, the usual numbers of pilgrims allocated to Muslim countries have been slashed to avoid over-crowding around the Islamic shrines during the pilgrimage,” the source explains.
As a result, the GIA has to cut down on the pilgrims it usually airlifts to Mecca this year in order to comply with this new directive from Saudi.
D169, 000 Hajj package
This year’s hajj package costs over D165, 000, raised from D136, 000 last year. However, majority of the pilgrims have their trips financed from abroad through remittances, a hajj specialist who prefers not to be named said.
This amount is far above the reach of the average Gambian generally and the majority of country’s working population, the specialist argued. Among the pilgrims are those who have ben sponsored by private GSM companies, parastatals, among other corporate bodies.
A young man, Abubacarr Jatta, expressed excitement that the president has financed the pilgrimage of his parent to Mecca this year.
“However, I am also unhappy that all his sponsored pilgrims have the VIP ticket on board the first flight, even though some early birds who paid first have to be dropped to ensure this,” he said.