Indonesian envoy lobbies Saudi Arabia to exclude pilgrims from 'umrah' ban

Indonesian envoy lobbies Saudi Arabia to exclude pilgrims from 'umrah' ban

Terbaiknews - This file photo taken on August 112019 shows Muslim pilgrims performing the haj. (AFP/FETHI BELAID )

Indonesian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Agus Maftuf Abegebriel is currently in the process of lobbying the Middle Eastern country to exclude visa-holding Indonesiansfrom the temporary ban on allumrah(minor haj) pilgrims imposed by the kingdom amid coronavirus concerns.

In a statement issued on Thursday, the Indonesian Embassy in Riyadh said that Agus had approached Saudi Haj and Umrah Minister Mohammaed Saleh Benten to reconsider the ban on Indonesian umrah pilgrims, saying that the country with the world"s largest Muslim population was not among those with confirmed coronavirus cases.

"The Indonesian ambassadoris currently fighting for the fate of [Indonesian]umrahpilgrims who have obtained their visas," the statement said.

The Saudi Haj and Umrah Ministry has temporarily halted the issuance ofumrahvisas, following the Saudi government’s temporary ban announced on Thursday to keep the country safe from the coronavirus outbreak.

Data from the ministry shows that, as of last December, Indonesia contributed the second-highest number of umrah pilgrims with 443,879 arrivals, just below Pakistan with 495,270.

Read also: Saudi Arabia imposes temporary ban on "umrah" pilgrims amid coronavirus concerns

The news of the umrah suspension, which was one of several precautionary restrictions imposed amid the deadly virus outbreak,has been met with mixed responses from Indonesian officials.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo conveyed his respect for the Saudiadministration’s decision to impose such a restriction, saying that it demonstrated the country’s swift action to protect its citizens from the coronavirus.

“We fully appreciate and respect [the decision]; it shows that the Saudi administration prioritizes health,” Jokowi said on Thursday.

Meanwhile, People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) Speaker Bambang Soesatyo called on the Saudi administration to “rethink” the ban on Indonesian umrah pilgrims.

“Unlike other countries that have confirmed COVID-19 cases like Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, India and Pakistan, Indonesia is still clean. The restriction will upset the 1 million Indonesian umrah pilgrims who go on minor haj every year,” Bambang said.

Low-cost carrier Lion Air has stated that it was still operating umrah flights as of Thursday afternoon. Lion Air spokesman Danang Mandala Prihantoro said the airline had been communicating with Saudi authorities regarding the restriction. (rfa)