By Omar Bah
Dozens of Gambian pilgrims from the recent Hajj in Mecca on Saturday stormed the offices of Alpha Travel Services, a private travel agency, demanding to be refunded their Dakar-Banjul flight ticket expenses.
The pilgrims have just returned from Dakar by road more than a week after their fellow pilgrims reached.
Speaking to The Standard on behalf of the affected pilgrims, Ebrima Keita claimed their agreement with Alpha Travels was to fly them from Banjul to Jeddah and back but they found themselves stranded in Dakar after arriving on a plane from Jeddah without any connecting flight to Banjul.
He said after landing in Dakar, they spent five hours without food or water waiting for their expected flight to Banjul with the agency telling them that their flight was full and that they should wait for the next one.
“They kept lying to us until I took it upon myself to tell them their excuses were becoming too much to bear. That was the time they came to us to say they are instead going to bring us in buses,” he explained.
Keita said they received the news with shock and disappointment and some of them immediately decided to make their own arrangement to use passenger vehicles while others were brought in the buses.
Momodou Jama Suwareh, whose wife was booked through the agency expressed his disappointment over the way the agency treated their clients and demanded they refund their Dakar-Banjul tickets or else they would take action against the agency.
“If they want us to keep quiet over this matter they should refund us our ticket fares from Dakar to Banjul,” he said.
He said the agency kept relatives of pilgrims in total confusion by changing dates and times of their scheduled return each time they are contacted.
“I want to advise the government to properly scrutinise the travel agencies before awarding them licenses to operate hajj programmes,” he said.
Lang Touray, who also paid for his father to travel to Mecca made similar demands and similar threats When The Standard revisited the office in the company of some more pretesting pilgrims, none of the staff was available. The Standard kept calling the contact numbers of the agency’s staff but none would answer the calls until last night when we managed to get through to one Nasir Hydara, a senior staff at the agency.
He responded: “The flight which took them from Banjul to Dakar was the same flight which should bring them back, but there was a misunderstanding between the airline and Brussels. So when that happened my boss said he cannot put 30 people out of 165 in a flight and leave the rest there. And in fact I don’t know who you talked to but I have discussed with all my pilgrims and they all forget about it.”
Asked whether he is aware that some of the pilgrims are demanding refund of their Dakar-Banjul tickets, Hydara replied: “Ask them how much they paid. Can D250, 000 take you to Mecca and bring you back, including food and accommodation?”