52 expats stuck in kingdom for 20 days after passports go missing from hotel

KUWAIT: Forty-four out of 52 umrah pilgrims from Kuwait, who were stranded in the holy city of Makkah after losing their passports and documents, returned to Kuwait yesterday. They had spent more than 20 traumatic days in the kingdom waiting for new travel documents. They arrived to a rousing welcome early yesterday, and were received at the border by police officers, office-bearers of the India Sunni Jamaat organization, volunteers and relatives.
However, eight of the pilgrims could not enter Kuwait as they only had exit passes and no passports, and had to go back to Makkah. According to sources, the tour operators who took the pilgrims to the kingdom on umrah visas offered to help them complete their formalities and promised them air tickets to go back to their respective countries at the earliest.

“We entered Kuwait around 6 o’clock in the morning, as we had to spend almost a day at the Kuwait-Saudi border because eight people in our group didn’t have passports,” said Razak Cheruthuruthy, one of the pilgrims. He said Kuwaiti officials had to resolve some technical problems, as they were entering the country on new passports.

The 52-member expatriate group, consisting of men, women and children, traveled to the kingdom on April 3 by bus from Kuwait on a weeklong package. The expats, all holding valid work visas in Kuwait, included 43 Indians, five Egyptians, three Bangladeshis and one Pakistani. Twenty-one of the pilgrims are from the Indian state of Kerala.

Arriving at their hotel in Makkah, the pilgrims handed over their passports to the hotel authorities, who reportedly put them in a bag. According to sources, the pilgrims were informed by the tour operator on April 9 that it had lost their passports. To their dismay, they were told to be prepared to travel to Jeddah to apply for new documents. Many pilgrims called their relatives in Kuwait and told them their passports were lost due to “gross negligence of the hotel staff”. “We were shocked to learn that they had misplaced our passports,” one of the pilgrims said.

Cheruthuruthy said they were stressed and distraught since they learned about the loss, but many people were there to help them. “Indian associations like OICC Jeddah and KMCC Makkah took painstaking efforts in sending us back to Kuwait,” he said. He also praised Indian Embassy officials in Jeddah who worked relentlessly for the pilgrims to get their new passports and travel documents.

By Sajeev K Peter