Saudi minister introduces new measures easing Umrah travel for Bangladeshis

Saudi Arabia’s delegation led by Hajj and Umrah Minister Tawfiq Al-Rabiah meets Bangladeshi officials in Dhaka on Aug. 23, 2023. (AN photo)
Saudi Arabia’s delegation led by Hajj and Umrah Minister Tawfiq Al-Rabiah meets Bangladeshi officials in Dhaka on Aug. 23, 2023. (AN photo)
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Updated 23 August 2023
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Saudi minister introduces new measures easing Umrah travel for Bangladeshis

Saudi Arabia’s delegation led by Hajj and Umrah Minister Tawfiq Al-Rabiah meets Bangladeshi officials in Dhaka on Aug. 23, 2023.
  • Tawfiq Al-Rabiah becomes first Hajj minister to visit country
  • New transit visas to be issued to Bangladeshis traveling via Kingdom

DHAKA: Saudi Hajj and Umrah Minister Tawfiq Al-Rabiah held meetings with officials in Dhaka on Wednesday to introduce new measures facilitating the arrival of Bangladeshi pilgrims for Umrah.

The Saudi minister arrived in Bangladesh on Tuesday night on a two-day trip that is part of efforts to highlight the Kingdom’s progress in transforming the pilgrimage system.

He reached Bangladesh from Pakistan, where the Saudi Tourism Authority launched Nusuk, the e-visa, planning and booking platform that allows travelers to create pilgrimage itineraries for Makkah, Madinah and beyond, and organize their visit to Saudi Arabia.

The platform will also be launched in Bangladesh during Al-Rabiah’s visit.

“It is the first-ever visit by a Hajj minister to Bangladesh ... we are here to facilitate the coming of Bangladeshis to Makkah and Madinah. It’s our role to make it easier for them to come and make it a memorable experience,” Al-Rabiah told reporters after meetings with Bangladeshi President Mohammed Shahabuddin and State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam.

Almost 3 million Bangladeshis live and work in Saudi Arabia. They are the largest expat group in the Kingdom and also the biggest Bangladeshi community outside Bangladesh.

Changes to the Kingdom’s policies allow those performing Umrah to stay longer.

“We did so many changes to make it easier for Bangladeshis to come to the two holy sites and also visit any part of Saudi Arabia. The Umrah visa is extended now from 30 to 90 days,” Al-Rabiah said.

“Anyone coming for Umrah, visiting Makkah and Madinah can go and visit any city in Saudi Arabia — Riyadh, Dammam and other cities — and visit their loved ones, their relatives, their friends in Saudi Arabia.”

He also announced new visas for those transiting via Saudi Arabia. Bangladeshi nationals traveling with Saudi airlines can now obtain the visas directly at airports.

“We initiated the transit visa which allows anyone traveling to stop over for up to four days and go to Makkah and Madinah without any fees,” the minister said. “It’s all to make it easier for Bangladeshis to come to the two holy sites.”

Exchanges between Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh have been on the rise since March, when a delegation led by Saudi Commerce Minister Majid bin Abdullah Al-Qasabi visited Dhaka.

In the coming weeks, the Kingdom’s investment minister, Khalid Al-Falih, is also expected to visit the country.

“We see opportunities. The relationship between Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia is always a very strong relation and it will continue in that way. And we are working to make it even stronger,” Al-Rabiah said.

“The sky is the limit. The ties are very strong, and we have lots of opportunities that we are working on.”


Cyclone hits Bangladesh as nearly a million flee inland for shelter

Cyclone hits Bangladesh as nearly a million flee inland for shelter
Updated 26 May 2024
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Cyclone hits Bangladesh as nearly a million flee inland for shelter

Cyclone hits Bangladesh as nearly a million flee inland for shelter
  • Most of Bangladesh’s coastal areas are a meter or two above sea level and high storm surges can devastate villages
  • Forecasters predicted gusts of up to 130 kilometers per hour, with heavy rain and winds also lashing neighboring India

PATUAKHALI: An intense cyclone smashed into the low-lying coast of Bangladesh on Sunday, with nearly a million people fleeing inland for concrete storm shelters away from howling gales and crashing waves.
“The severe Cyclone Remal has started crossing the Bangladesh coast,” Bangladesh Meteorological Department Director Azizur Rahman told AFP, adding the raging storm could continue hammering the coast until at least the early hours of Monday morning.
“We have so far recorded maximum wind speeds of 90 kilometers (56 miles) per hour, but the wind speed may pick up more pace.”
Forecasters predicted gusts of up to 130 kilometers (81 miles) per hour, with heavy rain and winds also lashing neighboring India.
Authorities have raised the danger signal to its highest level.
Cyclones have killed hundreds of thousands of people in Bangladesh in recent decades, but the number of superstorms hitting its densely populated coast has increased sharply, from one a year to as many as three, due to the impact of climate change.
“The cyclone could unleash a storm surge of up to 12 feet (four meters) above normal astronomical tide, which can be dangerous,” Bangladeshi senior weather official Muhammad Abul Kalam Mallik told AFP.
Most of Bangladesh’s coastal areas are a meter or two above sea level and high storm surges can devastate villages.
“We are terrified,” said 35-year-old fisherman Yusuf Fakir at Kuakata, a town on the very southern tip of Bangladesh in the predicted route of the storm, speaking just before its arrival.
While he had sent his wife and children to a relative’s home inland, he stayed put to guard their belongings.
At least 800,000 Bangladeshis fled their coastal villages, while more than 50,000 people in India also moved inland from the vast Sundarbans mangrove forest, where the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers meet the sea, government ministers and disaster officials said.
“We want to ensure that a single life is not lost,” said Bankim Chandra Hazra, a senior minister in India’s West Bengal state.
As people fled, Bangladeshi police said that a heavily laden ferry carrying more than 50 passengers — double its capacity — was swamped and sank near Mongla, a port in the expected path of the storm.
“At least 13 people were injured and were taken to a hospital,” local police chief Mushfiqur Rahman Tushar told AFP, adding that other boats plucked the passengers to safety.
A young man drowned in rough seas at Kuakata on Sunday afternoon, district government administrator Nur Kutubul Alam told AFP.
Bangladesh’s disaster management secretary Kamrul Hasan said people had been ordered to move from “unsafe and vulnerable” homes.
“At least 800,000 people have been shifted to cyclone shelters,” Hasan said.
The authorities have mobilized tens of thousands of volunteers to alert people to the danger, but local officials said many people stayed home as they feared their property would be stolen if they left.
He said around 4,000 cyclone shelters have been readied along the country’s lengthy coast on the Bay of Bengal.
In addition to the villagers and fishermen, many of the multi-story centers have space to shelter cattle, buffaloes and goats, as well as pets.
On the low-lying island of Bhashan Char, home to 36,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, 57 cyclone centers were opened, deputy refugee commissioner Mohammad Rafiqul Haque told AFP.
The country’s three seaports and the airport in the second-largest city Chittagong were closed, officials said.
India’s Kolkata airport closed Sunday, while the Indian navy readied two ships with aid and medical supplies for “immediate deployment.”
While scientists say climate change is fueling more storms, better forecasting and more effective evacuation planning have dramatically reduced the death toll.
In the Great Bhola Cyclone in November 1970, an estimated half a million people died — mostly drowned by the storm surge.
In May last year, Cyclone Mocha became the most powerful storm to hit Bangladesh since Cyclone Sidr in November 2007.
Sidr killed more than 3,000 people and caused billions of dollars in damage.
Last October, at least two people were killed and nearly 300,000 fled their homes for storm shelters when Cyclone Hamoon hit the country’s southeastern coast.


Right-wing politician Nigel Farage accused of generalizing about UK Muslims for ‘not sharing British values’

Right-wing politician Nigel Farage accused of generalizing about UK Muslims for ‘not sharing British values’
Updated 26 May 2024
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Right-wing politician Nigel Farage accused of generalizing about UK Muslims for ‘not sharing British values’

Right-wing politician Nigel Farage accused of generalizing about UK Muslims for ‘not sharing British values’
  • Honorary president of Reform UK party interviewed by Sky News’ presenter Trevor Phillips

LONDON: Controverisal right-wing figure Nigel Farage was accused on Sunday of generalizing about UK Muslims for “not sharing British values” during an interview on Sky News.

The honorary president of the Reform UK party was being interviewed by the channel’s presenter Trevor Phillips, whom he told there is “a growing number of young people” in the UK who were “on the streets of London every Saturday” and “loathe much of what we stand for.”

When pressed by Phillips on whether he was referring to British Muslims, Farage said: “We are. I am afraid I found some of the recent surveys saying 46 percent of British Muslims support Hamas, support a terrorist organisation that is proscribed in this country.”

He was quoting a Henry Jackson Society poll released in April that reported that only one in four British Muslims believed Hamas members committed murder and rape in Israel on Oct. 7 last year, in which around 1,200 people were killed and 250 taken hostage in an attack on the south of the country.

Farage compared British Muslims to people of British-Caribbean origin, who he claimed had a shared herotage with the UK, and asked Phillips — whose parents moved to Britain as part of the Windrush generation from the West Indies — how many people in his community could not speak English.

Phillips replied: “We all speak English,” before adding that many British Muslims also spoke the language.

Farage rejected the claim and said that we had not been appearing on the program to “attack the religion of Islam,” adding that he had not done so. He blamed the issue on the two main British political parties and their immigration policies.

“I’m blaming elements of that community, I’m not blaming them. I’m stating a fact, no one else dares tell the truth about this,” he said.

“On the broader question, the biggest single problem this country faces is the population explosion. And it will not be debated in this election.

“Why? Because Labour started it and the (Conservatives) accelerated it. That has led to a problem on a scale unimaginable. Nobody in history has allowed more people in who are potentially really going to fight against British values than (Prime Minister Rishi) Sunak.”


Twelve injured as Qatar Airways Dublin flight hits turbulence, airport says

Twelve people traveling on a Qatar Airways flight from Doha to Ireland were injured during a bout of turbulence.
Twelve people traveling on a Qatar Airways flight from Doha to Ireland were injured during a bout of turbulence.
Updated 26 May 2024
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Twelve injured as Qatar Airways Dublin flight hits turbulence, airport says

Twelve people traveling on a Qatar Airways flight from Doha to Ireland were injured during a bout of turbulence.
  • Irish broadcaster RTE said the incident lasted less than 20 seconds and occurred during food and drinks service
  • Aircraft experienced turbulence while airborne over Turkiye, Dublin Airport said in a statement

DUBLIN: Twelve people traveling on a Qatar Airways flight from Doha to Ireland were injured during a bout of turbulence, Dublin Airport said on Sunday, adding that the plane landed safely and as scheduled.
Flight QR017, a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, landed shortly before 1 p.m. Dublin time (1200 GMT), the airport said.
“Upon landing, the aircraft was met by emergency services, including Airport Police and our Fire and Rescue department, due to 6 passengers and 6 crew [12 total] on board reporting injuries after the aircraft experienced turbulence while airborne over Turkiye,” Dublin Airport said in a statement.
Irish broadcaster RTE, citing passengers arriving at Dublin Airport, said the incident lasted less than 20 seconds and occurred during food and drinks service.

Qatar Airways told Sky News that the injuries sustained by passengers and crew were “minor.”

It said: “[They] are now receiving medical attention... The safety and security of our passengers and crew are our top priority.”

An internal investigation regarding the incident has now been launched, the airline said. 
The incident took place five days after a Singapore Airlines flight from London to Singapore was forced to land in Bangkok due to severe turbulence, which killed a 73-year-old British man and left 20 others in intensive care.
Turbulence-related airline accidents are the most common type, according to a 2021 study by the US National Transportation Safety Board.
From 2009 through 2018, the US agency found that turbulence accounted for more than a third of reported airline accidents and most resulted in one or more serious injuries, but no aircraft damage.


Indonesia, Malaysia call on international community to ensure Israel’s compliance with ICJ ruling

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi meets with Arab envoys in Indonesia on April 2, 2024 to discuss the situation in Gaza.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi meets with Arab envoys in Indonesia on April 2, 2024 to discuss the situation in Gaza.
Updated 26 May 2024
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Indonesia, Malaysia call on international community to ensure Israel’s compliance with ICJ ruling

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi meets with Arab envoys in Indonesia on April 2, 2024 to discuss the situation in Gaza.
  • Southeast Asian nations have been critical of Israel and vocal supporters of Palestine
  • ICJ also ordered Tel Aviv to allow clear access for investigations of genocide allegations

JAKARTA: Indonesia and Malaysia said on Sunday that the international community must ensure Israel’s compliance with an order by the UN’s top court to stop its military offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah. 

The International Court of Justice ruled on Friday that Israel must “immediately halt its military offensive and any other action in the Rafah Governorate.” Judges at the ICJ also said the humanitarian situation there was “disastrous” and called on Tel Aviv to allow unimpeded access to any mission investigating allegations of genocide. 

Indonesia and Malaysia, both of which have been critical of Israel and vocal supporters of Palestine, have welcomed the ICJ order. 

“Indonesia supports the ICJ’s ruling ordering Israel to immediately halt its military offensive in Rafah, and to ensure the unimpeded access to the Gaza Strip of any commission of inquiry, fact-finding mission or other investigative body to investigate the allegation of genocide,” the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

“Indonesia urges Israel to immediately comply with the measures ordered by the Court without reservation, and underlines the critical role of the Security Council in ensuring its implementation.”

Neighboring Malaysia is also calling on the international community to take action in ensuring Israel’s compliance.  

“Malaysia strongly urges the international community to intensify pressure on Israel to comply with the (ICJ ruling), as failing to do so will only make a mockery of the sanctity of international law,” the Malaysian Foreign Affairs Ministry said. 

Israeli airstrikes and ground offensives in Gaza have since October killed 36,000 Palestinians and wounded over 80,000 people, the vast majority children and women. 

The emergency ruling comes a week after it was requested by South Africa as part of a wider case accusing Israel of genocide. The decision marked the third time this year that the 15-judge panel has issued preliminary orders seeking to alleviate the death toll and humanitarian suffering in Gaza. 

Israel launched its assault on Rafah earlier this month, forcing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to flee a city that had become a refuge to around half of the region’s 2.3 million people.

Rafah, on Gaza’s southern edge, has also been the main entry route for aid, and international organizations have said the Israeli operation has cut off the enclave and raised the risk of famine.

While the ICJ is the highest UN body for hearing disputes between states and its rulings are final and binding, without enforcement powers, the court’s orders have been ignored in the past. 

Israel has repeatedly dismissed South Africa’s case accusing it of genocide as baseless, arguing in court that its operations in Gaza are self-defense and targeted at Hamas militants who attacked Israel on Oct. 7.

But the situation in the Palestinian enclave had deteriorated since the court last ordered Israel to take steps to improve it, and conditions had been met for a new emergency order.


Philippines boosts halal certification to cater to more Muslim tourists 

Exhibitors pose with a love sign at the Mindanao Tourism Expo in Cagayan de Oro, Philippines.
Exhibitors pose with a love sign at the Mindanao Tourism Expo in Cagayan de Oro, Philippines.
Updated 26 May 2024
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Philippines boosts halal certification to cater to more Muslim tourists 

Exhibitors pose with a love sign at the Mindanao Tourism Expo in Cagayan de Oro, Philippines.
  • Tourism is key sector for the Southeast Asian country, comprising 13 percent of GDP
  • Philippines wants to double its halal-certified products and services by 2028

MANILA: The Philippines is working to cater more to Muslim tourists, officials have said, with efforts underway to increase halal accreditation of hotels and restaurants in the country. 

Tourism is a key sector for the archipelago known for its white sandy beaches, diving spots and diverse culture, having contributed nearly 13 percent, or about $44 billion, to the Philippines’ gross domestic product in 2019. 

The Department of Tourism has lately been trying to attract more Muslim tourists from around the world, particularly by ensuring halal certification in restaurants.  

“All the regions (in the Philippines) are working … to be Muslim-friendly … Throughout the country, we are doing the same … We continue to encourage our restaurant-owners to be Muslim-friendly and eventually put up their own halal kitchen,” DOT Undersecretary Myra Paz Abubakar told Arab News over the weekend. 

The predominantly Catholic Philippines — where Muslims constitute about 10 percent of the nearly 120 million population — has also been working to develop its overall domestic halal industry by 2028, with plans to double the number of its halal-certified products and services. 

Earlier this month, the tourism department led a delegation to the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai, where they promoted the country’s best tourism to the international market at a time when tourist arrivals have been increasing from the Middle East. 

The Philippines welcomed more than 2 million international travelers since the beginning of the year, according to official data, including a 10 percent increase in visitors arriving from Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which has been among the Philippine government’s key emerging-market targets.

But the Southeast Asian country is also eager to attract international Muslim visitors beyond the Gulf, Abubakar said. 

“DOT is not only targeting the Middle East market but our neighboring countries as well such as Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia,” she said, citing Muslim-majority countries in the region. 

The Philippines was recognized with the Emerging Muslim-friendly Destination of the Year award last year at the Halal in Travel Global Summit held in Singapore. 

Since then, the Muslim market has been a priority for the country’s tourism sector.  

“We’re preparing to certify Muslim-friendly hotels and restaurants … We’re trying to be ready especially with the food because we know that the food, the halal certification, is very important,” DOT regional director Marie Elaine Unchuan told Arab News. 

The Philippines, which has Southeast Asia’s third-largest Muslim population, is preparing itself to be as halal-friendly as possible, as during international tourism fairs Philippine officials often get asked about the country’s readiness to host Muslim travelers, she said.  

“That was one of the questions … Do we have halal-certified restaurants, and do we have Muslim-friendly hotels? So, we’re really working on it. We’d rather be very prepared so that we can market more.”