National Hajj Commission of Nigeria has suspended pilgrimage flights to Saudi Arabia after hundreds of women from the African country were prevented by the authorities in the Gulf kingdom from proceeding with their pilgrimage.
In a statement on Friday, the commission described the situation as an "unprecedented and worrisome development", adding that the suspension would enable it to "appraise the situation critically".
Uba Mana, a spokesman for the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria, said on Thursday that Saudi immigration officials at King Abdulaziz Airport in Jeddah refused the women entry, saying they were not travelling with a husband or male relative.
An official put the number of the would-be pilgrims at 509. The first batch flew home on Wednesday, officials said.
Goodluck Jonathan, the Nigerian president, had set up a five-member team to negotiate with the Saudi authorities, an official statement said.
'Treated like criminals'
The women denounced their treatment at the hands of the Saudi authorities, with one traveller saying they had been treated as criminals.
Some of the women said they had been kept at Jeddah airport for as long as five days, under what they said were humiliating conditions.
"Some of us were kept in two halls for five days in humiliating conditions with little food, water and other basic needs and inadequate toilet facilities," said one of the women, Zainb Mohammed.
"Many of us have cold and fever. We did not have blankets and it was cold, especially at night."
"It is obvious that we will miss the hajj," she said, referring to one of the five pillars of Islam, which must be performed by Muslims at least once in a lifetime if they are able to do so.
Another woman, Maryam Abdullahi, said officials had humiliated them.
"I have never been so sad in my life like in the past three days," she said.
"We were held like criminals in debasing conditions. We deserve human treatment and as women and mothers, we deserve to be treated with honour but the Saudis have shown that they have no heart."
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|Timothy V. Gatto|