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Ejection of female pilgrims upsets Nigeria

Sept. 27, 2012 at 10:44 AM

ABUJA, Nigeria, Sept. 27 (UPI) -- More than 1,000 Nigerian Muslim women making a pilgrimage to Mecca were detained at Saudi Arabian airports for two days before being deported, authorities say.

The mass deportation of women pilgrims traveling without male guardians has inflamed a diplomatic row between the two countries, the Nigerian newspaper Daily Trust reported.

The first group of 171 deportees arrived late Wednesday afternoon at the airport in the northern Nigerian city of Kano. Women in the group reported they had been held at airports in Medina and Jeddah for 48 hours without food or water.

The deportations began even as Nigerian Vice President Namadi Sambo was meeting with the Saudi ambassador in an attempt to resolve the women's situation.

A delegation of five top Nigerian officials led by House Speaker Aminu Tambuwal will meet with Saudi officials over the issue.

Since July, more than 1,000 Nigerian female pilgrims have been denied entry on arrival in Saudi Arabia.

The Nigerian Senate urged President Goodluck Jonathan to meet with Saudi King Abdallah over the mistreatment of the pilgrims, the Leadership newspaper reported.

In a debate on the Senate floor, one senator said many preparations had been made to allow the women to go on the pilgrimage, including the signing of a memorandum of understanding.

"They should be told in black and white we don't know them (the Saudis)," another senator said, the newspaper reported. "We don't need them. This is discrimination against blacks and Africa."

Sheik Tijjani Bala Kalarawi, a renowned Islamic scholar from Kano, disputed the Saudi reason for preventing the women from completing their pilgrimage, or hajj. Saudi officials have always accepted a traditional understanding that all pilgrims traveling in group, including women without guardians, are under the care of hajj officials, he said.

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