Angry customers attack travel agents after Hajj dream wrecked

Travel agent Babar Hussain and his brother Sabir Raza outside Ashton Travel

Angry customers smashed a travel agent’s window and home after a visa cock-up forced him to cancel their Hajj trip.

Around 200 pilgrims who planned to travel to Mecca had their plans ruined when the travel visas failed to arrive at the Ashton travel agents from a London based company.

Even though travel agent Babar Hussain explained it was “out of his hands” and promised to compensate money, he came under attack from infuriated customers.

The window of his shop was smashed and a mob of disgruntled customers turned up at his house and the home of his brother demanding to speak to them, which forced Mr Hussain to call police.

Many of the hopeful pilgrims had saved up for years for Hajj which will take place between October 13-18.

But 191 people – including 114 from Manchester – were left with no choice but to cancel their trip after the visas – usually issued by the Saudi embassy – failed to arrive at Ashton Travel from an external agency.

Furious customers

Mr Hussain, 49, said: “Our customers are so angry with us and we understand, they have saved up for this special spiritual pilgrimage. We are deeply sorry but we are suffering, we have been threatened at work and in our homes. We ask that the public support us while we get this money back, we promise our customers will get their money.

“We are part of this community and our families live here. We are ashamed of what has happened, this is a matter of our spirituality but we were only told at the last minute the visas had not arrived.”

Masjid al Haraam, Mecca
Masjid al Haraam, Mecca

Mr Hussain’s brother, Sabir Raza, also works at the Ashton Travel which launched nine years ago, and was planning to join the pilgrims to Mecca.  He said: “We have the money back for the visas but cannot get it for the flights and accommodation without going through our insurance.”

Mr Hussain says he was only told by London firm Travel Star the day before the first group were due to travel on September 27 and that the visas would not be coming. By then he had already forked out £161,000 for airline tickets and £230,000 for accommodation in Saudi Arabia.

Travel Star stated that new caps on the number of visas being issued had caused the dilemma, and said it had returned £82,000 that had been paid up front by customers.

Syed Jamal Akhtar, who runs Travel Star, said: “We told the agents not to buy tickets for travel before the visas had been confirmed. The problem has been down to a policy change, with 20 per cent less visas available.

“Only about five out of 600 arrived. Of course, we don’t feel well about it. I’m in bed and I’m very sick because of this. In 40 years such a thing has never happened before.”

Regulation

A couple have said that the ruined Hajj trip had left them “heartbroken”.

Akol Miah, 59, and his wife Ambia Khatun, 54, of Burnage, had saved for six years to make the £6,800 obligatory trip. They were due to fly to Medina last Tuesday. They say they were constantly reassured that the visas would come through until finally being left shattered with the news the trip was cancelled.

Ambia said: “I am heartbroken. I feel so stressed all the time and I can’t sleep. I can’t stop thinking about the fact I should be in Saudi Arabia now.”

The married couple hope they will get their money back so they can make the trip next year. Akol, a chef, said: “We sympathise with the travel agent if they have been threatened by customers but that was always going to happen if people are left in this position.

“The travel agents should hold a public meeting and apologise.” The couple also called for the government to regulate Hajj trips more closely.

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