Wednesday 26 July 2017

Ebola-hit Sierra Leone gets Mecca all clear

Ebola-hit Sierra Leone gets Mecca all clear
(AFP 06/26/16)

Saudi Arabia's government has allocated 800 places to Sierra Leone for hajj pilgrims, lifting a two-year ban imposed due to the Ebola crisis, officials said Friday.

Saudi authorities in 2014 banned people from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia -- the three nations that bore the brunt of the outbreak.

But the Planning Hajj Committee in Muslim-majority Sierra Leone announced Friday that the Saudi authorities had granted 800 places, although more had been requested.

"The government had requested accommodation for 3,000 pilgrims but due to limited accommodation, the Saudi authorties had turned down the request," a committee source told AFP.

"A three-man pre-hajj delegation (will go) to Mecca Friday to negotiate to double the quota to 1,600 for the pilgrimage to the Holy Land."

Ebola quarantines in west Africa sealed off hundreds of thousands of people from the outside world when the tropical virus was at its height, following the first cases that emerged in Guinea in December 2013.

Sierra Leone declared it had no more cases of the viruses on March 17.

The news that pilgrims would be permitted to make the trip to Mecca -- a religious requirement once in the life of every Muslim -- was greeted with relief from those forced to delay their journeys.

"It's a dream come true after being in hibernation for the past two years and I will definitely make the hajj this year," said Mohamed Kamara, who recalled being ready to board a flight from Freetown to Jeddah in 2014 when civil aviation authorities announced the ban.

In past years, President Ernest Bai Koroma has personally provided financial support to more than 40 percent of pilgrims making the hajj but officials would not say whether such provisions would be made this year.

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