Staff Correspondent, Burma Times
The Parliamentary Standing Committee for the Ministry of Religious Affairs has recommended a close watch on Hajj agencies to prevent trafficking of Rohingya refugees to Saudi Arabia in the guise of pilgrimage.
The committee, which met for the first time on Sunday, advised the ministry to be vigilant, its Chairman Bazlul Haque Harun told reporters.
It is widely believed that many aspiring workers and Rohingyas land in Saudi Arab on Hajj visa every year with the help of private agencies and do not return.
In 2013, according to government estimates, over 1,000 Hajj pilgrims did not come back to Bangladesh.
Last year, the Saudi Arabian government sent a list of 284 Hajj agencies to the Religious Affairs Ministry, alleging human trafficking, fraud, sub-standard services, and other irregularities.
On June 18 last year, the then Religious Affairs Minister Shahjahan Mia had told Parliament that the government had fined and cancelled the licences of 30 Hajj agencies in the three years since 2009 for human trafficking to Saudi Arabia in the garb of Hajj.
Besides, criminal cases, too, had been filed under the Immigration Act-1983 and the Human Trafficking Deterrence and Suppression Act, he said.
Harun said: “The government has taken a firm stand to prevent human trafficking during Hajj.” The government would show no mercy to those do not return after the polgrimage, he added.
He said that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had sent a strict direction to the ministry to prevent irregularities during this year’s Hajj travels.
Harun said some 600 Hajj agencies would be kept out of the Hajj operations this year for their alleged irregularities last year.
“The allegations against them are being investigated. Criminal cases might be started against some.”
He said a special committee, led by a joint secretary of the ministry, was overseeing the matter.
The government would make arrangements for 10,000 Bangladeshi pilgrims to perform Hajj at Tk 300,000-350,000.
Altogether, 101,758 Bangladeshis are expected to go on pilgrimage this year.
Other than the 10,000 availing the government package, the remaining 91,758 pilgrims can opt for private packages costing Tk 295,776.
The parliamentary committee chief also said that an inter-ministerial meeting would be held at the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism on April 30 to discuss the overall Hajj management plan.