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...‘Govt should make application process for Saudi visas easier’

By by Carla Bridglal carla.bridglal@trinidadexpress.com

The Trinidad and Tobago Government needs to create formal diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia to make visa applications and approvals necessary for travel to that country easier, two Muslim activists have said.
As it stands, local Muslims who want to participate in the Hajj ritual—a pillar of Islam that requires all able-bodied Muslims to travel to the religion’s holiest city, Mecca, in Saudi Arabia—must get a visa issued from the Saudi Arabian embassy in Caracas, Venezuela, which has diplomatic jurisdiction over bilateral relationships between T&T and the Middle Eastern kingdom.
On March 19, 22 Trinidad and Tobago nationals, including three imams and 14 women and children, were detained by Venezuelan authorities for suspected terrorism.
Yesterday, the three imams returned home after being released following diplomatic intervention by the ministries of Foreign Affairs and National Securi­ty.
“We have letters submitted to (Foreign Affairs) and now more than ever the timing is right to try to get this done. We appeal to (Minister Winston Dookeran) to please let us try to see a resolution to this problem (of acquiring visas) that has been exis­ting for quite sometime as it relates to our pilgrims,” former chairman of the San Juan/Laventille Regional Corporation Nafeesa Mohammed said.
Mohammed, who was part of the lobby to encourage the Government to intervene, was at the airport to greet the freed men.
“The Muslim community needs to intensify efforts to put proper systems in place to minimise this type of situation as it relates to Hajj and Umrah and the need for Trinidadians to go for visas. We need to fix it. Lessons have to be learnt from this experience,” she said.
Mohammed said she hoped diplomatic relations would have been sorted out already and hoped to have more dialogue with the ministry to come to a resolution as soon as possible.
Umar Abdullah, president of the Islamic Front, also said he wrote to the Foreign Affairs Ministry about creating diplomatic ties to avoid pilgrims going to Venezuela.
He said several of the Muslims who had been detained had been to Venezuela on previous occasions to procure visas, but nothing like this had happened before although, last year, many people had had their visa requests refused.
“Muslims represent ten per cent of the (T&T) population, and by now we would expect the Government would be sympathetic to some of our requests since they do depend on the Muslim votes to help them into office,” said Abdullah.
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