Mr President, we congratulate the 2,000 Gambian pilgrims for the successful 2023 Hajj and extend our condolences to the two families who lost their loved ones during their stay in Saudi Arabia.
We pray that Allah grant them the highest place in Jannatul Firdawsi.
Mr President, we are also aware that Saudi Arabia’s Hajj Ministry awarded The Gambia, Malaysia and Bahrain as foremost countries in addressing the needs of pilgrims. We thus congratulate the Hajj Commission for putting The Gambia on the map as the only country in Africa to be among the countries progressively addressing the needs of pilgrims.
But we want to remind you Mr President that some concerns have been raised by several pilgrims on the manner in which this year’s logistics were carried out by the Hajj Commission. Among other things, complaints have been raised about the lack of proper arrangements for transportation of the pilgrims, feeding and accommodation.
Mr President, it is essential to bring to your notice that from their residence in Saudi, Gambian pilgrims walk 30 minutes to go and pray at the Haram and 30 minutes back to their residence. This trek makes it very difficult for especially the elders who have difficulties walking for a long distance. We suggest that the Hajj Commission consider a closer place for next year’s Hajj in order to avoid such difficulties. However, it is understood and acknowledged that the trip from The Gambia to Medina was smooth and pilgrims had nothing to complain about in that regard.
We are aware that this year’s Hajj was the first activity for the new leadership of the Hajj Commission and that some operations were usurped instead of leaving those responsibilities with travel agencies that were doing them.
Mr President, we would want to suggest also that your government engage the Hajj Commission and the travel agencies to look into the operational arrangements for securing better accommodation, food and transportation for next year’s Hajj.
Mr President some pilgrims also bemoaned the short stay in Medina which was less than the customary extra 8 days that were always given to pilgrims.
It has been noted and discussed that there is mixed reaction on this. Some believe that the duration of stay is okay because it would not be exhausted before the actual hajj period due to the distance from the Haram, while others think it is customary for Gambian pilgrims to spend at least 8 days in Medina and get 40 obligatory prayers performed at the Prophet’s Mosque.
Mr President, we would like to encourage the new Hajj Commissioners to be observers and allow the travel agencies to take charge of the transportation, accommodation and feeding of pilgrims. The tour guides based in Saudi should be patient, helpful and respectful in performing their duties.
Mr President, the Hajj Commission is the supervising body, thus we are expecting them to be referees and not players. The Commission, the Ministry and the travel agencies including GIA should evaluate what happened and improve the situation next year. As the population in Saudi continues to increase and elderly pilgrims suffer due to the tightness and congestion of the arena, we also advise Muslims in their 80s with health complications to avoid visiting Saudi and send representatives to perform the Hajj for them.
Finally, Mr President, we suggest that the Hajj Commission allow or give Hajj operators the prerogative to handle hotel accommodation and food arrangements for pilgrims.
We expect the State to encourage and empower the private sector, such as the travel agencies, by giving them the free hand to participate in realising the success of the Hajj. Performance should however be monitored for effective delivery of service.