Performing umrah has become uncertain for almost 20,000 people amid a crisis of plane tickets.
Several thousand migrant workers are also in doubt as to whether they would be able to return to their workplaces in the Middle East on time.
The crisis deepened in the last three or four months after at least three airlines — Fly Dubai, Etihad and Jet Airways — stopped their operations between Dhaka and several middle eastern countries, including Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
“Price of middle-east bound air tickets has been increased twice or more in the last three months amid increased demand. Many poor migrant workers have been unable to buy the tickets,” Shahdat Hossain Toslim, president of Hajj Agencies Association of Bangladesh, told a press conference at a hotel in the capital.
Tenure of visas of many migrant workers expired before they could fly to their destinations, he said.
Many migrant workers, who returned to the country on one month’s leave, are afraid that they won’t be able to return on time.
Toslim said airfare to different Middle-East countries used to be between Tk 18,000 and Tk 22,000 before the crisis. But the prices have reached Tk 40,000 to 50,000 now.
Dhaka-Jeddah-Dhaka tickets used to cost about Tk 50,000. The tickets now cost betzween Tk 80,000 and Tk 95,000.
“Sometimes, not even the travel agents are getting the tickets despite offering the hefty sums,” he said.
Over 1 lakh Bangladeshis visit Saudi Arabia to perform umrah every year. This year, the number of umrah aspirants increased many times as the Saudi authorities issued visas throughout the year, instead of just a few months, sources at the religious affairs ministry said.
Most people prefer to perform umrah in Ramadan.
Toslim said until May 8, this year, the Saudi government issued 1,62,508 visas for umrah.
Many of the people who had obtained Umrah visas and booked hotels in Saudi Arabia are waiting for their plane tickets, Toslim said.
He added that his organisation had sent a letter to the civil aviation and religious affairs ministries resolve the crisis.
It also urged Biman Bangladesh Airlines to increase its flights to and from the Middle-East.