Two weeks ago, a dispute erupted between Saudi Arabia and Nigeria over the former’s detainment of more than 1,000 women purported to be travelling for hajj without appropriate male chaperones.
It started on Monday, September 24, when a number of Nigerian women were prevented from entering into Saudi Arabia after landing King Abdul Aziz International Airport in Jeddah. Subsequent flights into Jeddah’s international airport resulted in more women between the ages of 25 and 35 been stopped and detained so that Nigeria had to put a halt to airlifting pilgrims.
There is a lot of confusion as to why the women were detained in the first place. Some women were refused entry because they did not have sufficient proof of being married even when their husbands were with them. Some of these women had different last names from their husbands, yet others were stopped because the male guardian listed on their visa had already arrived in Saudi Arabia or was to travel at a later date. The women may also have been detained because Nigeria tends to be “shoddy” when it comes to issues surrounding international travel and immigration. There are many Nigerians who enter Saudi Arabia illegally to seek work.
While the Nigerian government and officials had a lot to say about the treatment of these female pilgrims, the few words from Saudi authorities tried to justify their decision to detain and deport the women as they apparently did not stick to the rules for hajj. However, the Saudi Ambassador to Nigeria came out to explain that it was not only Nigerian citizens that made up the detained pilgrims, and that pilgrims from other countries have been subjected to similar screening. The Saudi Ambassador also said that Saudi authorities had been more “flexible in the past,” but had decided to enforce the mahram law strictly this time.