By Libya Herald staff.
Benghazi, 25 September, 2014:
Libyans going to Mecca for the Haj pilgrimage this year have been flying out in their hundreds . . .[restrict]in recent days although numbers are reported to be significantly down on last year. There are a number of reasons, most notably the political situation which has forced the closure of the country’s main airports.
Saudi Arabia usually allows Libya to send 7,000 pilgrims for the Haj. Continued expansion work on the Grand Mosque in Mecca again reduced this to 5,600 this year but even that figure has not been reached, it is reported.
The Saudi Ambassador to Libya, Mohammed Al-Ali, currently based in Tunis, disclosed earlier this month that the number of visas issued by the Saudi authorities to Libyans for this year’s Haj and Umrah seasons was 90,000 compared to 135,000 for last year’s seasons.
Concerns about pilgrims’ health have also said to have contributed to a decline in numbers. Like pilgrims from other parts of the world, Libyans tend to leave the Haj obligation until late in life. However, the Saudis, conscious of epidemics spreading with so many people coming together from all the corners of the earth, especially at the moment with the Ebola disease, insist that pilgrims pass health tests before issuing visas.
The closure of Tripoli International Airport, Benghazi’s Benina Airport and Sebha Airport have complicated the journey for many Libyan pilgrims this year.
This week, the first of 300 pilgrims from the south of the country were flown on military transport planes from Tamenhint airbase north of Sebha on the first leg of the journey to Mitiga airbase, now the capital’s only functioning airport. More are expected to leave today and tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Benghazi pilgrims have been having to travel via Labrak airport near Shahat. According to airport director Bubakr Badr, six Haj flights have already left and the seventh and final one will depart on Sunday.
The Red Crescent has been helping pilgrims travel from Benghzi to Labrak.
Haj this year is from 2 October to 7 October and the first day of Eid Al-Adha will be Saturday 4 Ovtober.