Accra, Sept. 11, GNA – The first batch of 333 pilgrims out of 2,804 pilgrims who were airlifted from Accra to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to perform the hajj safely returned on Monday.
They were bused from the Kotoka International Airport to the Hajj Village with cheers from relatives, friends and sympathisers.
Mr Henry Quartey, the Deputy Minister of the Interior on behalf of the Government welcomed the pilgrims and thanked the Almighty Allah for bringing them back home safely.
He said the holy journey of the pilgrims to Mecca and back was “so far so good and we can say that Allah has been merciful to us” and that all things they sought for; the blessings, favours and interventions from God for themselves and the nation should come to pass.
He commended the Hajj Board headed by Sheik I.C. Quaye for the successful organisation of this year’s Hajj and however said four pilgrims were recorded dead and that the detail account of whatever happened during the religious exercise would be given when the Board return from Mecca.
Mr Quartey prayed for Allah’s continuous blessings and protection for Ghanaians and for those who passed on a peaceful rest.
Hajia Mariam Sissy, the Deputy Communication Director of the Hajj Board briefing the journalists said a total number of pilgrims airlifted from Accra and Tamale to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was 5,700 and the numbers expected to return for both sides were 2,804 and 2,622 respectively.
“When you do the calculation, you realise the figure is not up to the 5,700 because we have pilgrims who decided to buy their own return tickets,” she said.
She said originally, the pilgrims were supposed to start arriving in Accra on September 14, but because of the concerns Sheik I.C. Quaye has for the pilgrims, he negotiated for the early take off of flights from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the last batch would arrive on September 19.
Hajia Sissy said the Hajj Board had successfully met all the promises made to the pilgrims as they were fed from the entry point of Madina to Mina and were hoping to continue until the last flight to Accra.
“I think from the social media and from the report that I had received so far you could see the kind of 5-star hotels in which place our pilgrims in this year’s hajj were accommodated – that notwithstanding the perennial problems we do encounter in Mina that have to do with overcrowding, pilgrims sleeping outside, under bridges, we did not see it this year.
“We neither did we hear it because that also answers the reasons we reduced the number (the quota) because it is the same square meter area that was given to us last year.
“When the Hajj Board went for its first conference we were told that is the same square meter area that was given. The comfort of the pilgrims was a paramount concern to us so therefore we decided to organise a successful hajj to reduce the numbers, so will see it did pay,” she said.
Hajia Sissy said the security element introduced this year also helped all people who were in Saudi Arabia without problems since hajj is a process that will continue to improve.
“It keeps on improving and I believe that next year, we will be called upon to witness a better hajj as has been witnessed this year, because for what we saw last year we see that there was an improvement” she said.
Touching on the death of the four pilgrims – one female and three males, Hajia Sissy said the Hajj Board had a lot of medical officers who check the health status of all pilgrims before they embark on the religious exercise.
She said those who were found unfit to participate were advised accordingly “and so for all those who qualified medically according to our medical department were fit to undergo this exercise. I think that the hajj is still on-going we wait till they come back and then we hear from our medical team the details of the deaths.
“But from the information we been gathering, there were people who died their natural death and the fourth casualty just died yesterday (Sunday) on board the flight – there was nothing wrong before they got to Tamale. So far I can say we have one female and three males who passed on.
“Tentatively we are expecting the last flight and last batch of pilgrims in Accra on September 19 with all board members including; the Chairman to arrive safely,” the Deputy Communication Director said.