Little India: Overseas Indian, NRI, Asian Indian, Indian American

32 Indian Pilgrims Stranded in Iraq After Being Deserted by Travel Agency Return Home

Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Mumbai

Indian pilgrims who were stranded in Iraq for a week have returned to India following assistance provided by the Ministry of External Affairs, the New Indian Express reported.

The 32 Indians were stuck at Najaf in Iraq, where they had gone for a pilgrimage of the Shia shrines, when their visas expired. Their tour guide left them without paying the hotel bills after Hyderabad-based tour operator KSS Travels, that had organized the pilgrimage, shut shop following criminal cases being filed against them for cheating customers, the Times of India reported.

The return tickets for the pilgrims were funded by Mumbai-based ACF Tourism after it was found that KSS travels had given the tour contract to ACF, as per reports. “When Indian embassy officials went to rescue the pilgrims they learnt that the hotel was booked under the name of a local agent working for ACF tourism,” Syed Ali Jafri of Shia Companion Foundation was quoted as saying by NIE.

He took to the social media to express his gratitude to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj for providing assistance to the pilgrims.

“So the Embassy and Iraqi police called for the local agent and asked him to pay for the return tickets since the hotel was booked under his name. If he hadn’t helped the pilgrims, he would have been subjected to prosecution under the Iraqi law,” he added.

Jafri had on June 2 urged Swaraj on the social media to help the stranded pilgrims in Iraq.

Two criminal cases were earlier registered against KSS Travels and the police said they are investigating the case, as per the Times of India.

Syed Altaf Abedi, the chairman of KSS Travels, has already been arrested by the police, along with the company’s Hyderabad branch manager, Mohammed Taqi, employee Hashim, and others. The travel agency is allegedly involved in a scam amounting to crores of rupees.

“In Kadapa district alone, four cases were booked and in other districts in Andhra Pradesh, cases are booked. Accused had already sent around 10,000 pilgrims,” Andhra Pradesh’s Kadapa superintendent of police Attada Babujee was quoted as saying by TOI.

KSS was allegedly taking vast sums of money from pilgrims who wished to travel for Umrah and Ziyarat, NIE reported. They are also said to have taken their passports, but as the time of their journeys came closer, KSS did not keep its word of sending them to the pilgrimage.