A haj that never was for 300

Nowhere to fly to: Pilgrims left in the lurch and waiting at KLIA. — Bernama

PETALING JAYA: Haj pilgrims who were stranded at the airport were sweet-talked by travel agents for days before everything finally unravelled on Thursday. A daughter of an affected pilgrim, who wished to be identified as Hani, said she sensed something wrong after her 63-year-old mother’s flight was postponed several times.

She said her mother had first gone to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) on June 28 only to be told the flight was postponed to July 4.

ALSO READ: Stranded haj pilgrims to be refunded and have their passports returned, says ministry

“On that day the pilgrims went to the airport expecting to board the flight to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, only to be informed that the flight was again delayed to the next day,” she told The Star.

The takaful insurance agent added her mother along with over 300 pilgrims were told to gather at a hotel in Sepang as the flight would take off at 9.30pm on July 5, when another delay was announced.

ALSO READ: Stranded: 380 Prospective haj pilgrims stuck at KLIA

“The agents said there were some issues with visas for 66 pilgrims. We were furious as they did not disclose who were the individuals affected.

“Instead of just letting the rest go on the flight, they held everyone up,” she said.

Hani told her mother she might have been scammed.

“I told my mother that we should make a police report and request for a refund,” she said.

Hani said her mother had used her pension savings to cover the RM35,000 expenses.

“It was heart-wrenching to see the elderly lose their hard-earned money just like that,” she said.

She added that the agents involved had held extravagant haj preparation courses at some expensive hotels a month prior to the incident.

On Thursday, it was reported that the group of 380 haj pilgrims were stranded at KLIA.

They were said to have been issued the furada or private haj visa to perform their pilgrimage without going through Lembaga Tabung Haji (TH).

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Religious Affairs) Datuk Idris Ahmad yesterday said there should be a comprehensive probe by the authorities and expressed disappointment over the incident.

Idris Ahmad added that if there was any element of fraud involved, the party involved should be brought to justice.

Meanwhile, the Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry yesterday said the affected haj pilgrims would be refunded in stages and have their passport returned.

This followed a meeting with a representative of the licensed travel agency at KLIA yesterday.

Those who did not get their money back were advised to lodge a police report, said the ministry in a statement.

It added that the incident would be investigated under the Tourism Industry Act 1992 (Act 482) for conducting business in a manner which is prejudicial to the interest of the public, the tourism industry or the national economy.

If found guilty, the travel agency could face a suspension or revocation of its licence, it said.

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