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Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Jeddah, 4 Oct. (AKI/Asian Age) - Saudi Arabia has decided to grant Haj visas to hundreds of Chinese Muslims who have been protesting for weeks outside the Saudi embassy in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. Saudi ambassador to Pakistan Ali Saeed Awadh Al-Asseeri told reporters in the Pakistani capital that the visas would be issued in January. He said the decision was taken in consultation with Chinese officials.

"They have Chinese passports, Pakistani visas and they are on the doorstep of our embassy. We really don't have any choice other than to treat this issue on humanitarian grounds," Al-Asseeri said.

Saudi Arabia had earlier maintained that Muslims applying for Haj or Umrah visas must be residents of the countries where they make their applications.

Explaining the rules, an official at the Saudi foreign ministry in Jeddah had earlier said: "According to Saudi rules, non-Saudis are only issued Umrah and Haj visas in their countries of origin. If a British Muslim were to apply for an Umrah visa in Delhi, his application would be denied. The individual would have to apply for the visa in his or her country of origin, which in this case would be the UK."

The foreign ministry official had earlier denied reports that there were any protests outside the Saudi embassy in Islamabad.

"Some Chinese Muslims, mostly Uighurs, applied for Haj visas and were informed by (Saudi) embassy officials about the rules. In their case, our embassy would need a letter of approval from the Chinese embassy in Islamabad and that takes time," he had pointed out.

According to a report on the Uighur Human Rights Project (UHRP) website, the Chinese Muslims were being refused visas to travel to Saudi Arabia "as a result of interference from the Chinese embassy in Islamabad."

In previous years, Chinese Muslims had travelled with relative ease to Saudi Arabia from Pakistan, preferring to travel overland as far as possible in order to reduce expenses of the pilgrimage.

The Chinese government's insistence that Muslims apply for and acquire their Saudi visas only in China could be a way to control the number of Muslims undertaking pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia.

According to Saudi rules, the number of Muslims granted Haj visas is a percentage of the country's total Muslim population. In other words, each country has a fixed quota and if visas were issued outside the applicants' countries, it would be very difficult to adhere to the quota system.
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