Kabul to impose fine on second-time Hajj pilgrims

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Afghan government officials discuss Hajj preparations at the yard of a center for Hajjis in Kabul on Sunday. This year 30,000 Afghan are set to perform Hajj. (AN photo)
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Afghan government officials discuss Hajj preparations at the yard of a center for Hajjis in Kabul on Sunday. This year 30,000 Afghan are set to perform Hajj. (AN photo)
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Afghan government officials discuss Hajj preparations at the yard of a center for Hajjis in Kabul on Sunday. This year 30,000 Afghan are set to perform Hajj. (AN photo)
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Afghan government officials discuss Hajj preparations at the yard of a center for Hajjis in Kabul on Sunday. This year 30,000 Afghan are set to perform Hajj. (AN photo)
Updated 03 July 2019

Kabul to impose fine on second-time Hajj pilgrims

  • Move to ensure all pilgrims get an opportunity to apply in limited Afghan quota
  • Tens of thousands wait for years to get the chance to visit, but for various reasons, many of them cannot go

KABUL: Faced with a huge backlog of applicants, with some waiting for years to perform Hajj, the Afghan government has introduced a $500 fine for those visiting Saudi Arabia for the second time, officials said on Tuesday.

The country’s Ministry of Religious Trust and Hajj has also launched a campaign to encourage pilgrims to avoid frequent visits and instead help poor countrymen as the humanitarian crisis and poverty grinds on, the head of publication for the ministry said.

“We have set up a database showing names and details of visitors and those making a second or third trip without a reason will be fined $500,” Nader Darez told Arab News.

Afghanistan’s annual quota for visitors to Islam’s holiest site, Makkah, stands at 30,000 people. Tens of thousands of people wait for years to get the chance to visit, but for various reasons, one being corruption, many of them cannot go.

Darez said as part of a move to cut graft and embezzlement several government organs this year will oversee the Hajj arrangement.

The first flights carrying pilgrims to Saudi Arabia will depart in two weeks’ time and government has yet to complete training guides and teachers for the Hajjis, he said.

The cost of one visit stands at $2,750 while tens of thousands perform Umrah during other times of the year. After the visit some pilgrims, as part of tradition, throw lavish food parties and give expensive gifts back home.

However, some have put an end to this practice.

Mir Agha, a resident from Kabul who has been to Hajj, welcomed the government move for trying to deter frequent visitors through the imposition of a fine and its campaign for encouraging them to help the poorer people in Afghanistan.

“If you are rich and capable physically, you are required to visit Makkah once in your entire life. Repeated visits are a waste of money and have no remuneration. Instead, God wants us to help our poor relatives and neighbors with that money,” he told Arab News.

Taj Mohammad Ahmadzada, who has been to Hajj said patronage, nepotism and graft still existed in Hajj visits, but added that the government had succeeded in putting forward some measures to make sure that visitors have better accommodation, transport and food.

“We have a saying that you can mock with anything, but not with the beard of your grandfather. People pay bribes for many things here and to pay a bribe for going to Hajj is a biggest sin both for the taker and giver,” he said.


Bushfire threat still high as Australia clean up begins

Updated 38 min 53 sec ago

Bushfire threat still high as Australia clean up begins

  • Firefighters were still battling 140 blazes across the country’s eastern seaboard
  • Tough conditions were expected to flare again in Queensland and New South Wales at the weekend as the temperature rises and winds pick up
GLENREAGH, Australia: Australians on Wednesday began sifting through the ashes of hundreds of bushfires that have ravaged the country, relieved that their worst fears were unrealized — but wary of a long and brutal summer ahead.

Firefighters were still battling 140 blazes across the country’s eastern seaboard, but a respite from “catastrophic” weather conditions meant the danger from many fires was downgraded.

The northern state of Queensland remained on high alert, with residents on the north shore of popular holiday town Noosa told to “leave immediately” as an “unpredictable” fire was burning nearby.

But in the worst-hit areas of New South Wales, cooler southerly winds eased conditions — a stark contrast with the gale-force gusts and high temperatures that plagued firefighters for much of Tuesday.

In all, 50 homes were damaged or destroyed, and around 20 people were injured, but most populated areas were spared.

Residents of the small towns of Glenreagh and Nana Glen returned to find houses intact, a nearby 150,000-hectare (370,000-acre) inferno having stopped just short of their doors.

But on nearby farmland, unlucky families faced homes destroyed and cars transformed into blackened husks.

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services acting commissioner Michael Wassing said another wind change on Wednesday afternoon could worsen several large fires in difficult-to-access areas of the state.

“We’ve got another tough day today and there’s an extended forecast that we’re not out of the woods by any means,” he said.

Tough conditions were expected to flare again in Queensland and New South Wales at the weekend as the temperature rises and winds pick up.

“We will not have all these fires contained before then,” New South Wales Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said, adding that it could be “many, many weeks” before the situation is fully under control.

“Unfortunately, what we need is rain... and there is certainly nothing in the forecast for the foreseeable future that’s going to make any discernible difference.”

More than 300 new fires began in the state Tuesday, with 19 classified as emergencies. They spanned a distance of almost 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) — from the outskirts of Sydney north toward Brisbane.

“The losses, the damage, the consequences could have been simply enormous across such a broad geographic area,” Fitzsimmons said.

New South Wales Police said they had begun investigating whether a small number of the blazes had been deliberately lit, as they made handful of arrests for suspected looting of fire-stricken properties.

The hot, dry continent of Australia has long experienced bushfires, but scientists say climate change is exacerbating extreme weather conditions, including a prolonged drought in the country’s east that has created tinderbox-like conditions.

The Bureau of Meteorology says human-caused climate change is also “influencing the frequency and severity of dangerous bushfire conditions” by increasing temperatures, sapping moisture from the environment and causing an earlier and more extreme fire season.

The unprecedented wave of bushfires have brought renewed calls for the conservative government to curb fossil fuels and cut greenhouse gas emissions.

However Prime Minister Scott Morrison and other senior ministers have repeatedly refused to answer questions about climate change during the unfolding catastrophe.