About 130 pilgrims are at the risk of being stranded in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, after their tour operator, Al Mash’aru Hajj and Umrah Group, failed to pay for their return flight.

According to media reports, the operator had made flight arrangements for their clients through Travel 2 Maldives, a flight charter company, and two cheques totaling US$247,450.00 were issued to settle the cost of both outbound and inbound flights. However, both cheques bounced due to insufficient funds. As a result, Travel 2 Maldives has been refusing to facilitate the return flight for the 130 pilgrims until the operator settles the due payments.

Over 200 pilgrims made their Umrah travel arrangements through Al Mash’aru Group this Ramadan, and the tour operator made flight arrangements for 138 of them through Travel 2 Maldives.

The Managing Director of Al Mash’aru Hajj and Umrah Group, Mr. Ali Farish, told local media outlets that the cheques were issued in favour of Travel 2 Maldives as a guarantee. Farish, who is currently in Mecca, claims to have requested Travel 2 Maldives to notify his company prior to cashing the cheques. However, a representative of Travel 2 Maldives said they had afforded leniency to Al Mash’aru with regards to the settlement of due payments. “We have extended the payment deadline on multiple occasions,” he told reporters. “Travel 2 Maldives has a strong rapport with airlines and as a result, airlines provide us with flexible booking solutions. However, failure to settle the due amounts within the agreed timeframe jeopardised that trust with our partners, which left us with no other option but to cash the cheques,” he added.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Islamic Affairs said they had asked the group for a written explanation on the status of the pilgrims by 2 pm on Monday but received no response.

Al Mash’aru Group charged each pilgrim a fee of MVR 36,500 for a 30-day umrah package which included return air tickets, visa arrangements, and food and accommodation in Mecca and Madinah.

Eight of the 138 pilgrims returned home Tuesday morning. Reports indicate that their airfares were settled with 10 minutes before the cutoff time given by the charter company. The remaining 130 passengers are originally scheduled to fly home today, however, Al Mash’aru has yet to provide any detail on the status of their return flight arrangements.