Stranded pilgrims home safe from Iraq
After spending more than 72 hours in the country, the passengers were booked on a Qatar Airways flight on Thursday night
The 51 Indians stranded in Iraq after their March 4 Air India flight back home was cancelled, finally returned to India on Friday morning. mid-day had reported on their plight in a foreign land on Wednesday, following which the airline arranged for all the passengers to fly home in Qatar Airlines.
The group of 51 people, of which 30 were from Mumbai, had flown to Iraq on February 22 to visit the Karbala mosque. However, their return flight to India was cancelled at the eleventh hour by Air India, leaving them in a lurch in Iraq. Left with limited money, the group had also staged a protest in front of the airline office in Iraq on Wednesday.
Shoeb Ismail Shaikh, a 30-year-old businessman among them, told mid-day on his return that he had an important business meeting back in India. "Had I missed it, it would have affected me badly. I was really scared as the officials from Air India weren't giving us any assured date of return. There were also a number of senior citizens with us who suffered because of the delay. It was really a nightmare for us."
The immigration officers of the airline had told the pilgrims that since all 51 of them were given a visa together, they would be sent back collectively but there were no flights with 51 available seats.
After mid-day spoke to Praveen Bhatnagar, Air India spokesperson earlier this week, he said that steps were being taken to bring the pilgrims back. Accordingly, arrangements were made on Thursday night for seats in Qatar Airways.
Anwar Decorator, a travel agent who had booked the tickets for the Mumbai passengers said that the tickets were booked months in advance. "I felt bad for the passengers stuck there. Thanks to the publication for aiding their return."
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